The Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) took the opportunity on World Melanoma Day (May 13) to urge Canadians to adopt sun-safe practices that will better protect them against melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. A new survey shows troubling trends in sun-safe behaviours among Canadians.

This call to action from Canada’s certified dermatologists comes as the association releases new research about Canadians’ attitudes towards sun exposure and sun protection. The latest CDA Sun Safe Behaviour Survey shows that Canadians continue to have misconceptions about certain “sun smart” practices. The survey also suggests that Canadians are still too frequently failing to take the steps they know would reduce their risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

It’s especially important for older adults to take action. Studies show older, fair-skinned men are more likely to die of melanoma than any other group. The main reasons are a lack of awareness of the disease and its frequent location, which is a hard-to-see place – the back. The lifetime risk of melanoma for Canadian men is now 1 in 59. For women, it is 1 in 73. And the risks are increasing. In comparison, the lifetime risk of melanoma for North Americans in the 1930s was 1 in 1,500.

Older men are most at risk of death due to melanoma.

“This gap between knowledge and behaviour on some sun-protection measures is a matter of concern for dermatologists,” says Dr. Jennifer Beecker, National Chair of the CDA Sun Awareness Working Group. “As we gear up for the summer months, when Canadians spend more time outdoors and increase their exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, our profession wants to raise awareness about sun safety and also dispel some common misconceptions.”

Melanoma rates increase

World Melanoma Day is marked annually around the globe on the second Monday in May and May is recognized as Melanoma Awareness Month. Canada’s certified dermatologists note that the incidence of melanoma has steadily increased in Canada for the past several decades. From 1992 to 2013, the incidence rates of melanoma went up 2.1% per year for men, and 2.0% for women.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, in 2017, an estimated 7,200 Canadians were diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer and 1,250 Canadians died from the disease.

“As the incidence of melanoma continues to rise, the CDA wants to reinforce the message that sun-safe behaviours are very important for prevention,” says CDA President Dr. Neil Shear. “We are also stressing the need to seek your dermatologist’s advice as soon as you notice worrisome skin changes. While melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, it is highly treatable when discovered early.”

Daily application of sunscreen helps reduce exposure to harmful UV rays.

Results from the CDA’s Sun Safe Behaviour Survey

The CDA has commissioned its Sun Safe Behaviour Survey annually since 2015. The questions for the most recent survey were fielded on Ipsos’ Canadian online omnibus between September 5 and 11, 2018, to a representative sample of 1,204 Canadians, age 16 and older.

Good news: Positive behaviours being adopted  

  • • Sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging rank as the top three sun-exposure concerns among Canadians and they are most concerned about the risk of skin cancer.
  • The percentage of Canadians who say it is important to stay out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. has increased significantly since 2017.
  • Three-quarters of Canadians say it is important to use sunscreen, and close to 90% report using sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Seven in ten agree it is important to wear sun-protective clothing.
  • Nearly 6 in 10 Canadians say that they conduct self-examinations of their skin, with a third saying that they ask their doctor/dermatologist to conduct skin examinations.

    Bad news: Ongoing causes of concern
  • Just two out of 10 Canadians use sunscreen daily.
  • There has been a significant increase in the false belief that some sun exposure without sunscreen is needed to meet the recommended vitamin D requirement.
  • Although 9 out of 10 respondents agreed that too much exposure to sunlight can damage their eyes, the proportion of Canadians who say they wear sunglasses with UV protective lenses when outdoors, all year round, is down significantly from 2017.
  • The percentage of respondents who believe that getting a sunburn is the first step to getting a tan has increased significantly from 2017. The CDA stresses that sunburn can increase the risk of melanoma and should be avoided.

Sun safe behaviours
These are among the sun-safe behaviours the CDA reminds Canadians to practice:

  • Seek shade between 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing, a wide brimmed hat, and UV-protective sunglasses.
  • Wear sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.
  • Early detection is key, and everyone should regularly perform a skin evaluation and see a certified dermatologist if you spot something suspicious.