Soaking in the Sun's Deadly Rays

Melanoma patients may not be staying cautious about avoiding dangerous UV rays

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Wear sunscreen, stay in the shade, avoid sun during the hottest part of the day: most people know the golden rules of keeping skin healthy and free from cancer. For people who have previously had melanoma, those rules are especially important.

A recent study looked at whether melanoma patients were cautious about the sun's harmful rays. The researchers collected information about their UV ray exposure and sunscreen use for three summers.

They found that patients who had previously had melanoma did not typically remain careful about avoiding UV rays. Additionally, as time went on, the patients received more and more UV ray exposure.

The researchers suggest that their findings indicate that people who formerly had skin cancer might not be taking care to avoid cancer-causing sun rays, even though they are at an increased risk of developing cancer.

"Avoid UV ray exposure."

Luise Winkel Idorn, MD, of the Dermatological Research Department in Bispebjerg Hospital, University of Copenhagen, led the study in order to see if people who had previously been diagnosed with melanoma stayed cautious about UV exposure.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can be extremely dangerous if it isn't caught and treated early. People who have had melanoma before are at an increased risk of developing it again. That risk increases with more exposure to UV rays.

The sun's rays contain UV, or ultraviolet, radiation, which is why doctors recommend wearing sunblock when spending time outdoors. To avoid a recurrence of melanoma, patients with a history of skin cancer should avoid UV ray exposure as much as possible.

This study is the first that measured how well individuals with a history of melanoma are avoiding UV ray exposure.

The initial study used 24 patients who previously had malignant melanoma, 21 of whom participated in the follow-up.

The study also included 51 controls in the first trial and 22 controls in the second trial, each of whom had never had skin cancer.

In total, data from 40 participants were analyzed by the researchers.

The participants wore a device that measured the amount of exposure to UV rays. They wore the device anytime they were outdoors between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Additionally, they kept a diary about their sunbathing habits, when they exposed their skin outdoors and whether they applied sunscreen.

Lastly, the study participants' skin type and pigmentation were recorded.

Researchers analyzed the data from May, June and July for three years.

They found that there was no significant difference in the amount of UV rays received by a patient who had previously had melanoma and a person who had never had skin cancer.

Of the participants who previously had melanoma, their daily dose of UV rays increased 25 percent between the first and second summer and 33 percent between the first and third summer.

After the second year of follow-up, melanoma patients' daily amount of UV ray exposure had surpassed that of the control group.

No difference was found between the control group and the melanoma patients in terms of the number of days with sun exposure or the number of days with sunscreen use for the second and third years of follow-up.

The researchers concluded that the findings showed that individuals who had melanoma did not stay vigilant about avoiding UV ray exposure, particularly while they were abroad or on vacation.

There were some limitations to this study. The sample size was relatively small, and the authors emphasized the need for further research on melanoma patients' habits regarding UV ray exposure.

"Unfortunately skin cancer is not an isolated event.... Since the prime risk factor for melanoma development is ultraviolet radiation, a skin cancer patient can never really let down her guard when it comes to sun exposure. While many patients after a melanoma is surgically removed may feel as though they have dodged a bullet and want to return to their old habits, this is the precise time when lifestyle changes (wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen daily, reapplying SPF every 2 hours if outside for an extended period of time, donning sunglasses, a hat and sun protective clothing, seeking shade in the mid-day) should come into play," Rebecca Tung, MD, director of Division of Dermatology at Loyola University Health System, told dailyRx News.

"Checking in with your dermatologist at least annually for a full body skin check after a diagnosis of melanoma is also essential to make sure any new or changing lesions are identified early," explained Dr. Tung. 

The study was published by JAMA Dermatology on October 2.

The research was funded by the Bispebjerg Hospital Research Fund and several other funds. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 2, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014