While many Canadian men are layering up in flannel shirts and long johns this winter, results from a recent survey commissioned by the Melanoma Network of Canada show they are forgetting one important layer of protection: sunscreen. Just four per cent of men wear sunscreen in the winter, putting them at risk of developing skin cancer from winter sun exposure.
Ninety per cent of melanomas, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to UV radiation from light and sunlight. Winter conditions create a particularly advantageous environment for intensifying UV radiation. Snow reflects as much as 80 per cent of UV radiation, which is much higher than the amount reflected by water or dry beach sand (10 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively) even in summer. Melanoma is the second most common cancer in young adults aged 18-34. The incidence of melanoma has more than tripled over the last thirty years and continues to increase.
Julia Murray, a Canadian Olympic Ski Cross athlete, is all too familiar with the consequences of not protecting your skin in the winter. Julia lost her father Dave Murray – a two-time Olympian and member of the infamous Crazy Canucks – from an advanced form of skin cancer when she was very young. As a result, Julia is doing everything she can to help raise awareness of this cause, including teaming up with the Melanoma Network of Canada to educate Canadians on the dangers of UV radiation in winter months.
“My father wasn’t aware of the risks of UV radiation in winter,” says Julia. “The winter sun is just as dangerous as summer sun. As a skier myself, I take precautions against winter sun, and I encourage all others who are outside enjoying the slopes or other outdoor activities to do the same this winter.”
Survey results show that men are more relaxed in their attitudes and behaviours towards sun awareness and protection. Men are less likely than women to:
- Accurately identify melanoma as skin cancer (80 per cent vs. 86 per cent);
- Wear sunscreen in all situations, regardless of the season; and
- Consider environmental effects as factors in changing the intensity of UV rays.
Furthermore, when men aged 18 to 34 were asked about their greatest skin-related concern, they ranked moisturizing, preventing pimples and acne and preventing skin cancer equally. This is particularly disconcerting as the lifetime risk of melanoma for men is higher than in women. In fact, men will account for 56 per cent of all new cases of melanoma this year and 62 per cent of deaths.
Canadians spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter and may not realize they are putting themselves at risk by not wearing sunscreen.
“Over exposure to winter sun is dangerous because UV radiation can’t be seen or felt,” says Annette Cyr, chair of the Melanoma Network of Canada. “UV radiation levels are influenced by the sun’s elevation, cloud cover, altitude and reflection – not temperature of the air, which means that sunscreen is required year-round. If skin is left unprotected, the risk of melanoma increases.”
Exposed skin is at risk of more than frostbite
Melanoma is the most aggressive and deadliest form of skin cancer. An estimated 5,500 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year and 950 will die from it. The survival rate for melanoma is high if it is detected early and, unlike many cancers, melanoma is clearly visible on the skin.
“Many Canadians are unaware that winter sun is strong enough to put their skin at risk of damage. In Canada the sun is strong enough to cause skin cancer,” says Dr. Teresa Petrella, medical oncologist and head of the melanoma group at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre. “UV reflection from snow and ice should not be underestimated and Canadians need to take steps to protect themselves before it’s too late.”
Winter sun safety tips:
Melanoma Network Canada urges Canadians to protect themselves from UV radiation by wearing sunscreen in the winter.
- Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on all exposed areas, and apply just before going outside.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after excessive sweating.
- Protect yourself with clothing, a hat with a brim, and sunglasses year-round.
- Check your skin monthly to detect malignant melanoma early.
- More information on winter sun safety is available at www.melanomanetwork.ca
About the Melanoma Network Canada (MNC)
Melanoma Network Canada (MNC) is a patient-led organization dedicated to the prevention and elimination of melanoma. The MNC works with medical professionals, health care agencies and other stakeholders to educate, advocate and fund for early diagnosis and effective treatment of melanoma, education, prevention and awareness programs, relevant and innovative research, support for patients and an improved quality of life for those living with melanoma.
About the Survey
From December 13, 2011 to December 14, 2011, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey on behalf of the Melanoma Network of Canada. One thousand and three Canadian adults were surveyed. The sample is representative of the national population.