Does Your City Have Suntelligence?

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The American Academy of Dermatology has released the results of a new online poll of 7000 adults conducted in 26 US cities called “Suntelligence: How Sun Smart is Your City.” The poll questioned adults about their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors about skin cancer detection, sun protection, and tanning. Unfortunately, the results could be better.

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"One common thread we found encouraging is the majority of people polled expressed concern about skin cancer and had awareness of the importance of proper sun protection," said William James, MD, a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the AAD. "However, we found that people's behaviors don't always correlate with their concerns."

The survey, conducted between January 12 and January 31, 2010 found that those living in Hartford CT, Salt Lake City UT, and Denver CO are the most knowledgeable about sun protection. Those living in Cleveland OH, Chicago IL, and Pittsburgh PA were the least knowledgeable.

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But knowledge doesn’t always bring action. For example, 48% of Hartford residents had never received a screening for skin cancer from a healthcare provider. In Denver, 65% agreed with the statement that a tan improves a person’s attractiveness.

Overall, eight out of 10 respondents expressed a concern about skin cancer, but 70% do not apply sunblock on an average day. Twenty-eight percent indicated that they never check their own skin for changes in moles or other skin blemishes. Sixty percent of respondents believe that sun exposure is good for you, likely because of the recent news about the increase in vitamin D deficiency.

"We're hoping the results of this survey will draw attention to the public's need to change its attitudes toward tanning, which is the first step in changing behavior," Dr. James says in a news release. Protection from sun exposure and awareness of the early warning signs of skin cancer can reduce the risk of melanoma becoming more invasive and less curable.

Non-melanoma skin cancer has increased from 1 million cases in 1987 to 3.5 million cases in 2009. Melanoma has also increase by an average of 3.1% each year since 1986.

The AAD website “Melanoma Monday” gives 31 tips for the 31 days of May, which is National Melanoma Awareness Month, to help bring awareness to risk factors for developing skin cancer. Among the recommendations:

• Generously apply a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 to all exposed skin. "Broad-spectrum" provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Re-apply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
• Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.
• Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
• Protect children from sun exposure by playing in the shade, using protective clothing, and applying sunscreen.
• Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your chance of sunburn.
• Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don't seek the sun.
• Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you've been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
• Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.

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