Experts' goal? Tweak skin cancer prevention game plan
Clayton Boldt, Ph.D.
Cancer prevention experts throughout the nation discussed new strategies for preventing skin cancer at the Texas Skin Cancer/Melanoma Screening and Prevention Summit held recently in Houston.
Co-hosted by MD Anderson’s Melanoma Moon Shot and Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the summit united oncologists and researchers with representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community and business organizations, and even parks and recreation groups to discuss how all could work together to prevent skin cancer.
”This is largely a preventable disease, so it’s essential that we educate the public about the importance of sun safety and skin cancer screening,” said Jeffrey Gershenwald, M.D., professor of Surgical Oncology and medical director of the Melanoma and Skin Center. Gershenwald co-leads the Melanoma Moon Shot, an effort to dramatically reduce cancer deaths from the deadliest form of skin cancer through prevention, early detection and treatment.
In 2014, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer to encourage a variety of partners, including government, business, health care, education and research to join together to promote prevention and early-detection strategies nationwide.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. and its numbers are increasing. According the American Cancer Society, more than 70,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year.
“One of the things we’ve learned in the melanoma community is the real danger of ultraviolet (UV) radiation,” Gershenwald said. “We know that UV radiation, whether from the sun or from indoor tanning devices, is associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.”
Gershenwald co-hosted the summit with Alan Geller, a senior lecturer in Harvard’s School of Public Health. A particularly powerful session in the summit allowed skin cancer experts to learn communications strategies from those who have successfully communicated the dangers of another major preventable cause of cancer — tobacco.
“The skin cancer control leadership is fairly new, whereas there are many leaders from the world of tobacco and there are many lessons we can learn from that world,” said Geller. “For example, issues around tanning beds are very similar to the uptake of tobacco. People think of tobacco as being cool and tanning beds as being cool.”
Attendees also shared experiences from previous skin cancer screening and prevention studies conducted in Germany, Australia and Pittsburgh.
Gershenwald hopes to use those experiences to launch an effective skin cancer screening research initiative in Texas. Several roundtable discussions were devoted to designing such a study, and future meetings will strive to better define its framework.