At first glance, Hartford, Salt Lake City and Denver might not seem to have much in common. But a new survey by the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy) found these three cities outshine other U.S. cities in heeding dermatologists' advice on preventing and detecting skin cancer.
The “Suntelligence: How Sun Smart is Your City?” online survey polled more than 7,000 adults nationwide to determine their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward tanning, sun protection and skin cancer detection. Twenty-six cities were ranked based on respondents’ answers to several questions in each category.
“One common thread we found encouraging is that the majority of people polled expressed concern about skin cancer and had awareness of the importance of proper sun protection,” said dermatologist William D. James, MD, FAAD, president of the Academy. “However, we found that people’s behaviors did not always correlate with their concerns.”
While Hartford, Salt Lake City and Denver ranked No. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, Cleveland, Chicago and Pittsburgh fell to the bottom of the sun-smart spectrum with rankings of 24, 25 and 26, respectively. when results for these cities were compared to the average collective responses for all survey respondents, significant differences were observed in the top- and bottom-ranked cities.
Hartford respondents excelled in their knowledge of sun protection and the risks associated with tanning, scoring above the average of adults overall. For example, only about one-third of respondents (35 percent) nationwide correctly answered the question that asked whether some types of ultraviolet (UV) rays are safe for your skin. Forty-two percent of Hartford respondents knew that this statement was not true — that all forms of UV exposure, from natural sunlight and artificial light sources such as tanning beds — are harmful.
Similarly, residents of Salt Lake City, Denver and Hartford all scored better than the national average when they disagreed with the statement that they are not too concerned about skin cancer because it is easily detected and treated. Overall, 76 percent of respondents nationwide disagreed with this statement, while 85 percent of respondents from Salt Lake City disagreed.
“While skin cancer can be successfully treated if detected early, the five-year survival rate for individuals with regional and distant stage melanomas are 65 percent and 16 percent, respectively. That’s why people must be vigilant about protecting their skin from sun exposure and aware of the early warning signs of skin cancer,” said Dr. James.
However, when examining skin cancer detection behaviors, nationally 59 percent of respondents had never been screened for skin cancer by a health-care provider. Respondents from Pittsburgh and Chicago fared even worse, with 69 percent of Pittsburgh respondents and 67 percent from Chicago admitting they had never had an examination. On the other hand, 48 percent of Hartford residents had never undergone a skin examination.
Despite dermatologists’ repeated warnings about the dangers of tanning, Dr. James added that respondents in last-place Pittsburgh scored significantly worse than the overall average when asked if people look more attractive with a tan. Specifically, 81 percent of Pittsburgh respondents agreed with this statement compared to 72 percent of the general public.
“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,” said Dr. James. “Our data show that most people are concerned about skin cancer, but they still need to modify their attitudes, behavior and knowledge to reduce their risk.”
To minimize your risk of skin cancer, the Academy recommends that everyone Be Sun Smart®:
- 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.
Monday, May 3, is Melanoma Monday® and the official launch of Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month®. Visit www.melanomamonday.org to take the Academy’s “Suntelligence” survey, as well as to find out how to perform a skin self-exam, download a body mole map or find free skin cancer screenings in your area.
Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 16,000 physicians worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the Academy at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or www.aad.org.
The “Suntelligence” survey was conducted for the Academy by RH Research of Chicago from Jan. 12 to Jan. 31, 2010. A total of 7,116 respondents completed the online survey; more than 200 completes were conducted in each of the 26 selected MSAs (metropolitan statistical area) and an additional 1,123 completes were conducted in the U.S. outside of the MSAs. The survey’s margin of error was ±1.2 percent for national data and ±6.9 percent for results stratified by MSA.
Editor's Note: Key highlights of the "Suntelligence: How Sun Smart is Your City?" survey and a complete listing of the 26 most and least sun-smart cities are available here.