U.S. Surgeon General’s Call-to-Action to Prevent Skin Cancer

Published on July 30, 2014

Updated on November 21, 2017

“Tanned skin is damaged skin and we need to shatter the myth that tanned skin is a sign of health.”


The Prevent Cancer Foundation was extremely pleased with the release of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Call-to-Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. At the recent press conference, Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, Acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH, and melanoma survivor Stacey Escalante launched the call-to-action.

Messages from all speakers were clear: we need to promote prevention because skin cancer is preventable. Stay out of the tanning bed and make sure to lather up and repeat applications of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Why? Skin cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. Approximately 63,000 new cases and 9,000 deaths are attributable to melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) each year with a price tag of over $8 billion. The number of Americans diagnosed with skin cancer in the last three decades outpaces the diagnoses for all other cancers combined. While the incidence for many other cancers decreases, the melanoma incidence has tripled over the past 25 years. This is an outrage for a disease that is largely preventable.

One in three Americans get sunburned every year, drastically increasing their chance to develop skin cancer. Additionally, indoor tanning devices, which are a known human carcinogen, are linked to 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year including 6,000 melanomas. We must change the social norms regarding tanning, much as they have for tobacco use. As a nation, we must promote prevention and public health where people live, labor, learn, pray, and play.

“Tanned skin is damaged skin and we need to shatter the myth that tanned skin is a sign of health,” said RADM Lushniak. Physical fitness and outdoor activities are critical for overall wellness, and everyone needs to be sun smart, with proper (and repeated) sunscreen application, the use of protective clothing and sunglasses, and minimal exposure during peak UV hours. Business, healthcare, education, government, and nonprofit sectors, along with families and individuals must work together to address skin cancer in an aggressive fashion.

During the press conference RADM Lushniak outlined the five overarching goals of the call-to-action:

  1. Increase opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings.
  2. Provide individuals with the information they need to make informed, healthy choices about UV exposure.
  3. Promote policies that advance the national goal of preventing skin cancer.
  4. Reduce harms from indoor tanning.
  5. Strengthen research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer prevention.

Skin cancer advocate and stage III melanoma survivor Stacey Escalante told her story as a 32 year old mother of two in seemingly great health who surprisingly learned that she had the disease and that it had spread to other parts of her body. She said, “I didn’t know that skin cancer could go inside your body and kill you.” As a Latina, she said that no one is immune to skin cancer, regardless of their skin tone. She is now on a crusade to help others through personal advocacy and pushing to enact skin safety laws, particularly those banning minors from using tanning beds. Ms. Escalante ended by saying, “Don’t become a statistic. Skin cancer can kill you.”

The overall message: It comes down to you. You can act to prevent skin cancer for yourself and those around you.

Learn more about the Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Skin Cancer Prevention. Don’t forget to become a Prevent Cancer Foundation advocate to continue to learn about policy and advocacy initiatives to Stop Cancer Before it Starts!

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