Dr. Campbell: Sunscreen alone is not enough to prevent cancer

RALEIGH, N.C. – Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and melanoma is the most deadly and this year, approximately 80,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed. There will be roughly 9,000 deaths from melanoma this year alone.

Melanoma is the number one cause of cancer deaths in women ages 25-30, and second for women ages 30-35.

Since exposure to ultraviolet light – from the sun and tanning beds – is a major risk factor for melanoma, wearing sunscreen is top of the list as a prevention aid.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common type of cancer in the USA is skin cancer – the two most common being basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer.

Melanoma is a major concern in the US, with rates of the disease increasing for at least three decades. In an attempt to reduce the skin cancer burden, public health campaigns worldwide are trying to encourage people to cover up in the sun, as well as wear sunscreen on exposed areas of skin.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer – one of the rarer types – but the cause of most skin cancer- related deaths. Malignant melanoma is caused by an uncontrolled growth of skin pigment cells (melancytes).

Seventy-five percent of all skin cancer deaths are from malignant melanoma. It is most commonly found among fair-skinned people. However, people of all skin types can get it.

Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin. Two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, damage the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB.

Ultraviolet A (UVA) is the longer wave UV ray that causes lasting skin damage, skin aging and can cause skin cancer. Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the shorter wave UV ray that causes sunburns, skin damage and can cause skin cancer.

On June 14, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its long-awaited rules for sunscreen labels, enabling consumers to more easily identify sunscreens that offer safe and effective protection from the sun’s cancer-causing UV radiation. The new regulations went into effect in Dec. 2012 for larger manufacturers.

Sunscreens may be labeled “broad-spectrum” if they provide protection against both UVA and UVB radiation according to FDA-sanctioned test methods.

Only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher may state that they help protect against skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures.

If you want to take measures to prevent skin cancer, it’s important to apply sunscreen at least SPF 30 or higher and you should also get sunscreen that protects from both UVA and UVB radiation.

It’s essential to practice smart sun safety habits, whether at home or abroad, and take care not to burn – sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer.

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention recommend seeking shade when the sun is at its strongest and wearing sun-protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat, wrap-on sunglasses and a T-shirt.

Skin cancer warning signs include changes in size, shape or color of a mole or other skin lesion, the appearance of a new growth on the skin, or a sore that doesn’t heal. If you notice any spots on your skin that are different from the others, or anything changing, itching or bleeding, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.


  • Wear sunscreen and reapply every two hours
  • Avoid the sun in the peak hours of 10-2 p.m. when UV light is at its most intense
  • Wear hats with wide brims
  • Wear clothing with SPF included when on the beach, etc.

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