Sun Exposure in the Military Raises Skin Cancer Risk in Veterans

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Many U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have experiences that increase their risk for skin cancer.
Many U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have experiences that increase their risk for skin cancer.

Many U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have experiences that increase their risk for skin cancer, according to a research letter published recently in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Jennifer Gloeckner Power, M.D., from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., and colleagues surveyed veterans to examine whether U.S. military workers had excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation during recent missions to Iraq and Afghanistan. Data were analyzed from 212 surveys.

The researchers found that 84 percent of respondents reported deployment in a desert climate, and 77 and 64 percent, respectively, spent four or more hours per day or more than three-quarter days in bright sun.

Sunscreen use was reported as sporadic, sometimes, and routine in 59, 28, and 13 percent of cases, respectively. Fewer than 30 percent of respondents reported having routine sunscreen access while working.

According to most respondents, the face, neck, and arms/hands were unprotected 70 percent of the time or more. In all subgroups, usage of various forms of sun protection while working was low.

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Higher availability of sunscreen, shade structures, hats, and sunglasses was linked to increased sun protection use (P < 0.0001). Only 23 percent of veterans reported being made very aware of skin cancer risks by the U.S. military.

"Future studies should expand to more national samples representing other military branches and seek greater detail on the reasons for under-utilization of sun protection and methods that are practical in the combat theatre," the authors write.

Reference

  1. Powers JG, Patel NA, Powers EM, et al. Skin Cancer Risk Factors and Preventative Behaviors among United States Military Veterans Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. doi:10.1038/jid.2015.238. June 25, 2015.

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