US Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Skin Cancer Prevention

Is tanning the new tobacco?

no tanning

Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

2015 started off with an amazing public health feat: Australia banned indoor tanning nation-wide. This made Australia the second country (after Brazil) to make indoor tanning illegal. Both countries should be applauded for taking this bold and impressive measure to protect their citizens from melanoma.

In recent years, efforts to decrease melanoma have increased around the world. Many countries and jurisdictions have banned indoor tanning for minors and enforced strict equipment regulations and health warnings. Numerous organizations and health authorities have launched high-profile prevention campaigns related to indoor and outdoor tanning. Many companies have started promoting sun-safe clothing. And in 2014, the U.S. Surgeon General published its significant and forceful ‘Call to action on skin cancer’.

This activity is reminiscent of the measures taken over the past few decades to curb the use of tobacco to reduce lung disease: prominent public health campaigns on the dangers of tobacco-use, health warnings on tobacco packaging, limiting youth access, and medical and political leadership via the U.S. Surgeon General’s influential reports on tobacco. Due to coordinated, committed political and financial investment to these and other measures, in many parts of the world,tobacco use has decreased and lung cancer incidence and death rates are dropping.

As Australia implemented a multi-sectoral approach to reduce tobacco use in the 1980’s, it also implemented a skin cancer reduction strategy to curb its troubling number of skin cancer cases and deaths. As a result, Australia is the first country in the world to see a decrease in skin cancer cases.  This is an impressive feat considering Australia’s cherished beach culture! The Australian strategy included prominent public health campaigns, school-based sun safety programs and policies, curtailing access to (and now banning) indoor tanning, developing sun protective clothing technology, and building and promoting shade etc. Australia’s skin cancer reduction approach should serve as a model for how to turn the tide on skin cancer.

Around the world, high death rates from lung disease served as the impetus for many countries to commit to reduce tobacco use. Similarly, high skin cancer incidence and troubling death rates in Australia served as the motivation for concerted action on skin cancer.

Today in North America, although the death rate from skin cancer is not as high as that for lung cancer (lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death), the incidence rate is significantly higher. (Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada, accounting for nearly the same number of new cancer cases as the four major cancers combined—lung, breast, colorectal and prostate. In the United States, skin cancer accounts for nearly half of all cancers).  And, while the incidence and death rate for most cancers is decreasing, it is increasing for melanoma, the most lethal skin cancer.

We wonder what it would take to motivate North America to apply the lessons from tobacco control. Will we follow Australia’s lead to take real action on melanoma? Is the number of lives lost the only way to motivate a bold multi-sectoral approach? What about the opportunity to prevent the #1 cancer in North America? Or the responsibility to curb the number of melanoma cases before death rates rise further?

Is tanning the new tobacco?






Did yesterday mark the beginning of a new era in the fight against skin cancer?

Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

We may have witnessed a watershed moment yesterday with the launch of the US Surgeon General’s ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’. This report could signal the beginning of a true commitment to combating skin cancer in the United States. It labels skin cancer as a ‘major public health problem’ that must be acted upon with urgency, and it aims to galvanize individuals, families and multiple sectors to address skin cancer head-on.

The potential impact of this report should not be underestimated: past U.S. Surgeon General reports, particularly the reports on tobacco, have been the catalyst for commitment and action on serious public health issues, nationally and internationally. With this report, the US Surgeon General has brought skin cancer prevention to the forefront. This is unprecedented.

The ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’ is forceful and comprehensive. Five goals are outlined:

  • Goal 1: Increase Opportunities for Sun Protection in Outdoor Settings
  • Goal 2: Provide Individuals with the Information They Need to Make Informed, Healthy Choices About UV Exposure
  • Goal 3: Promote Policies that Advance the National Goal of Preventing Skin Cancer
  • Goal 4: Reduce Harms from Indoor Tanning
  • Goal 5: Strengthen Research, Surveillance, Monitoring, and Evaluation Related to Skin Cancer Prevention

Each Goal is accompanied by specific strategies, which, together, map out a multi-sectoral plan of action.

DCMF commends the U.S. Surgeon General for challenging us all to combat skin cancer. Although focused on the U.S., this influential and descriptive call to action is informed by international successes and can serve as a guide for health leaders around the world. We agree with the Surgeon General that achieving these goals will not be a small task, but we are hopeful that the ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’ will mark the beginning of a new era in the fight against skin cancer.

For the full report and resources visit:

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