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Expert Opinion: Melanoma Risk Still High in the Winter.
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Sun Exposure and Indoor Tanning Both Major Threats to Skin Health.

It may not seem like it, but the winter sun still packs a punch, especially when it comes to melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, over 76,000 cases of melanoma were estimated for 2012, with over 9,000 deaths.  The primary cause of melanoma is ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

“There’s a saying we like to use: ‘Melanoma doesn’t hibernate.’ So just because it’s cold outside does not mean sun exposure can’t be dangerous,” said Ashani Weeraratna, Ph.D., an assistant professor in The Wistar Institute’s Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program and member of Wistar’s Melanoma Research Center. “You need to take care when out in the snow, in particular, since snow has been shown to reflect back more than 80 percent of UV radiation- when you compare that to 10-15 percent for water and beach sand in the height of summer, that’s really a lot of irradiation that is reflected back.”

According to Weeraratna, statistics show that only four percent of people wear sunscreen in the winter, putting them at greater risk for developing skin cancer. “So if you’re going to hit the slopes, you really need to consider using sunblock on any exposed skin,” Weeraratna said.

Likewise, Weeraratna says, indoor tanning on a UV tanning bed is still remarkably popular--particularly among young women--despite the fact that it is inherently dangerous.

“Whether you want to maintain your summer tan or simply warm up, tanning is never a good idea. Recent studies show that using tanning beds increases your risk of skin cancer by 800 percent,” Weeraratna said. “There is also this notion of getting a ‘base tan’ before traveling somewhere warm and sunny. The notion that a ‘base tan’ will protect you from burns is a myth, a particularly dangerous myth since people then assume that they need to be less careful out in the sun.”

If you would like to interview Dr. Weeraratna regarding melanoma and melanoma research, please contact Greg Lester, glester@wistar.org, 215-898-3934.