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Soldiers placed at risk of skin cancer, study reveals

03 Sep 2014

Soldiers deployed to sunny climates are not being adequately protected from the most common cancer type, according to a study presented at the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Skin cancer refers to a group of cancers predominantly caused by unprotected exposure to the sun, of which melanoma is the most dangerous.

Melanoma claims 2,200 lives in the UK and 9,700 in the US each year.

Previous research has shown that 34 percent of US military veterans who developed melanoma had also been deployed to tropical climates.

In comparison, only six percent of non-military melanoma patients had spent time in tropical climates.

This latest study, conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in the US, found that only 22 per cent of military personnel were made very aware of the risks of sun exposure.

Furthermore, whilst 77 per cent reported being exposed to bright sunlight for more than four hours a day, only 27 per cent had regular access to sunscreen.

Just under a third of respondents (32 per cent) reported having no access to sunscreen at all.

Consequently, a staggering 62 per cent of military personnel reported getting sunburnt while deployed abroad, including cases of skin blistering.

29 per cent have noted a change in the colour, shape or size of their moles (often a sign of skin cancer) since being deployed to tropical zones, however only four per cent had received a skin examination from a physician since deployment.

Johnathon Major, of the British Association of Dermatologists commented: “While this study relates specifically to the US, additional research1 highlights a correlation between UV induced skin tumours and UK service personnel. Skin cancer may not seem like a priority when you consider the other dangers faced by soldiers, but the disease is preventable and poses a significant risk. We need to consider how best to ensure that anyone who works outdoors, including soldiers, knows the risks and has access to sun protection.”

Jennifer Powers, Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University and Head Researcher of this study added: “The past decade of United States’ combat missions, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, have occurred at a more equatorial latitude than the mean centre of the United States population, increasing the potential for ultraviolet irradiance and the development of skin cancer. This study demonstrates room for improvement for skin cancer prevention and early detection in the military population, including possible screening of higher risk personnel.”


Burden of Occupational Cancer in Great Britain: http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr860.pdf

Source: British Association of Dermatologists


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