Researchers have discovered that patients with melanoma throw caution to the wind in the 3 years following their diagnoses and increase the amount of time they spend in the sun.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM) is a potentially lethal skin cancer. Although it is fairly rare among skin cancers, comprising only 3-5% of diagnoses, it is responsible for approximately 75% of skin cancer deaths.

CMM results when the melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells that determine skin color, undergo a malignant transformation.

While the key triggers leading to this transformation are not fully understood, researchers say exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun is recognized as the primary environmental risk factor.

According to a study by Dr. Luise Winkel Idorn, of Bispebjerg Hospital and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues, patients became increasingly blazé about their UVR exposure over time, particularly on overseas vacations.

The investigators studied 40 participants, including 20 patients with CMM and 20 controls, measuring their exposure to UVR using personal electronic UVR dosimeters and sun exposure diary information.

The UVR dosimeters were worn as a wristwatch, and all participants in the study wore them whenever they were outside, especially between 7am and 7pm daily. They were also required to answer simple “yes” and “no” style questions such as, “Did you sunbathe today?” or “Have you applied a sunscreen today?” in their diaries.

Study findings indicate that patients’ daily UVR dose increased 25% from the first to the second summer after diagnosis and 33% from the first to the third summer after diagnosis. UVR exposure also increased on vacations and days spent abroad, according to the study.

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Sunburn is a known risk factor in developing CMM, yet many patients in the study reported getting sunburned at least once during the study period.

Perhaps more worryingly, 60% of the CMM patients reported that they had been sunburned at least once during the study period in 2011, compared with 50% of the control subjects.

This is a concern as it is known that frequency of sunburn increases the risk of developing CMM.

Similar results were also recorded for use of sunscreen. In the first summer after diagnoses, CMM sufferers were more vigilant about its application than the controls.

However, by the third summer, there was no significant difference between the groups, indicating that patients became as lax about protecting themselves as the controls.

The study concludes:

In conclusion, data from the present study indicate that from the first until the third summer after diagnosis of CMM, patients increase their daily UVR dose in connection with an increase on days with body exposure, holidays and days abroad, whereas controls maintain a stable UVR exposure dose.”