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Skin Cancer Rates Rising, But Best Way to Reduce Risk is Still Avoiding Too Much Sun

Bill Branson, National Cancer Institute

A western Kentucky dermatologist says he sees multiple cases of skin cancer a day as the U.S. Surgeon General is warning of a steady increase of people with the disease.

Dr. Halden Ford in Paducah says skin cancer cases have been common since he started practicing in 1996. He says using sunscreen can reduce the risk of skin cancer but it’s not the only option.

“People also need to use protective clothing and just common sense,” he said. “You know, you don’t need to stay out all day with your shirt off. I have people who are out all day long and even though they use sunscreen they exceed the ability of sunscreen to protect them. So no matter how much sunscreen they use they’re still going to get burned. It’s just one part of other things they can be doing to try to cut down on sun damage and decrease their skin cancer risk.”

Ford also suggests people to avoid staying too long in the sun and to wear hats and protective clothing in addition to sunscreen.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s 1st District Congressman Ed Whitfield has worked to pass legislation this week that would speed up the FDA’s active sunscreen ingredient approval process. The FDA hasn’t added a new ingredient to the list since 1999.

While Ford agrees that Whitfield’s legislation is a good move, he says the issue is more than what’s in a sunscreen bottle.

“The problem is just most people just are resistant to using sunscreen because it’s inconvenient,” he said. “So I have a huge number of patients who have skin cancer histories and they don’t use sunscreen at all. We can’t make them use sunscreen. We just advise them to use sunscreen but they don’t use it.”

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease. The Surgeon General says nearly 5 million Americans are treated for skin cancer each year and the disease’s rate increased 200 percent from 1973 to 2011.

Whitney grew up listening to Car Talk to and from her family’s beach vacation each year, but it wasn’t until a friend introduced her to This American Life that radio really grabbed her attention. She is a recent graduate from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where she studied journalism. When she’s not at WKMS, you can find her working on her backyard compost pile and garden, getting lost on her bicycle or crocheting one massive blanket.
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