In October 2014, Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders' life changed forever when she learned that she had malignant melanoma. In the year after her initial diagnosis, she would discover two more melanomas. After a scary and frustrating battle with skin cancer, she is finally cancer free. Now, Sanders – who parlayed her Olympics achievements into a career as a television health and fitness expert — is embarking on a new challenge: raising awareness about skin cancer.
Skin cancer continues to be the most common type of cancer, with almost five million cases diagnosed among Americans each year. That's more than breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancers combined. However, most skin cancers are preventable.
Skin cancer prevention recommendations include minimizing exposure to the sun, wearing protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, and using broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Yet, research shows that many people in the U.S. do not adequately protect themselves from the sun.
Prevention recommendations also include avoiding indoor tanning — the practice of using tanning beds, booths, or lamps that emit ultraviolet radiation (or UV) to tan the skin for cosmetic purposes. Just one session of indoor tanning can increase one's risk of skin cancer by 20 percent and as much as 75 percent for those who begin indoor tanning before the age of 35. Though rates have been decreasing recently, indoor tanning remains prevalent. According to the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, 16 percent of adults had used indoor tanning devices, with use being most common among young adults.
In 2014, then-Acting Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH, issued a Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. He explained the need, saying, "The rates of skin cancer in our nation are increasing, creating a serious public health concern we cannot ignore."
Along with this Call to Action at the federal level, recent state legislation indicates a nationwide focus on skin cancer prevention that is unparalleled in our history. For example, many states have now banned minors from indoor tanning. There is also a proposed federal rule restricting minors' access to indoor tanning. However, an existing 10 percent tax on indoor tanning is currently being threatened with repeal.
The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention (NCSCP) is a coalition of more than 45 organizations whose mission is skin cancer prevention. The NCSCP designated the Friday before Memorial Day each year as "Don't Fry Day" to raise awareness about skin cancer prevention and to encourage everyone to protect their skin while spending time outdoors. Fox Chase Cancer Center supports the Don't Fry Day campaign to encourage Americans to practice sun-safe behaviors and to avoid unhealthy practices such as indoor tanning. Through social and local media engagement, we hope to educate as many Philadelphians as possible about skin cancer prevention. This year, for the first time, Mayor Kenney will issue a proclamation declaring Friday, May 26th Don't Fry Day in the city of Philadelphia.
As part of her advocacy efforts, Summer Sanders serves as celebrity spokeswoman for Don't Fry Day. She helped make our campaign a great success last year by raising skin cancer awareness and telling her own story about skin cancer. Sanders continues to be free of skin cancer while also living an active lifestyle. As we move into spring and summer, she will soon be enjoying the outdoors with her husband, Erik Schlopy, an Olympic skier whose family is from the Philadelphia area, and their two children. She will make sure that she and her family are protected from the sun. Be sure yours is too.
Carolyn Heckman, PhD, Melissa Auerbach, PhD, and Kristen Sorice, BA are with the cancer prevention and control program at Fox Chase Cancer Center.