Another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, however when most people think of the dangers military service members face, skin cancer and sunburn are not usually among them. New research, however, shows that among service members and veterans, skin cancer rates are up.
A study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and accompanied by commentary on skin cancer risk, shows that military members have an increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, its deadliest form.
The study was a review of nine previously published research projects. Calculating the risk of service members involved looking at the demographics as well as the requirements of the job. The military population includes two groups that are already at a higher risk for skin cancer. Those groups, Caucasians and those over the age of 50. Also, soldiers are often exposed to much higher levels of ultraviolet radiation than the average person who is not serving in the military. Given those factors, protection against harmful radiation, from the sun and other sources is essential for those who are serving their country.
Jennifer G. Powers, MD, FAAD wrote in the commentary, "From the Pacific Theater in World War II to more recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military members have been deployed to areas where they face prolonged exposure to the sun's harmful UV rays "This exposure is even more intense for those serving in desert environments because the sun's rays reflect off of sand."
Oliver J. Wisco, DO, FAAD, another of the authors of the commentary added, "U.S. military personnel face a unique set of skin cancer risk factors. While they may not be able to take steps to reduce their risk during their deployment, they can take steps to detect skin cancer early, when it's most treatable."
While civilians can wear protective clothing of their choice, stay in shady areas and carry sunscreen, these precautions are not available to most service members, especially those on deployment. The uniform and equipment they have to wear do not usually allow for extra gear, and they cannot merely step under a shady tree in the middle of the Afghan desert.
While military branches and veterans agencies must deal with skin cancer for their members, the general public is advised to take precautions now that warmer weather is upon us. The AAD has a tip sheet of ways to stay safe in the sun that can be found here. In addition, going over your skin on a regular basis to look for new spots, irregular skin tone, and other abnormalities is always a good idea. Resources for skin checks and additional information on skin cancer can be found at the AAD's Skin Cancer Awareness page. If any new marks or spots don't look right, call your healthcare provider. The video below also has essential information on sunscreen and how to make sure it's used correctly.