Part One of Our Sun & Skin Series
In December of 2010 the results of a landmark study were published by Adele C. Green, MD in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Green’s study showed that use of sunscreen cuts the risk of melanoma in half. This was the first study that used a randomized clinical trial to measure whether sunscreen use was effective in protecting against melanoma. Prior studies had been lab studies or retrospective studies that relied on the subjects’ memories of sunscreen use.
There were some very unique challenges to conducting a study of this type, as the research involved actively working with the subjects. Most case-controlled research is done by observing behavior and gathering existing data rather than actively intervening in people’s lives. Further, a placebo could not be used on the control group as this would subject the participants to dangerous levels of radiation. To address these issues, the test group was given sunscreen and trained its use while a control group of infrequent sunscreen users was asked not to change their existing habits.
The study was conducted in northern Australia, which is an area of high UV radiation and also boasts the world’s highest rate of melanoma. This allowed the researchers to conduct a study with minimal intervention, as environmental conditions were already in place. The study included 1600 participants; from 1992 to 1996 subjects used sunscreen as directed by the study, and in 1997 a ten-year follow-up study was conducted. There were 11 cases of melanoma in the test group (people who used sunscreen regularly, as directed) and 22 cases of melanoma in the control group (people who did not change their sunscreen use habits).
While this is the first study of its kind and more studies will likely be conducted, this is the first research to provide strong direct evidence that sunscreen helps prevent melanoma.
Source: The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal, Sunscreen Cuts Melanoma Risk in Half.