Secretary Thompson Urges Students To “Save Their Skin”

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today asked students to take simple preventative steps to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can lead to sunburns now, and skin cancer as an adult. Secretary Thompson advised that students protect their skin by wearing a hat, shirt, sunglasses and sunscreen while outside.

At the Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Washington, D.C., Secretary Thompson also announced new guidelines for schools to encourage young Americans to protect their skin from the sun now to help avoid skin cancer later in life.

“Children need to protect their skin. Sunburns are painful and can cause serious health problems later in life, including skin cancer,” Secretary Thompson said. “By wearing sunscreen, a hat, a shirt and sunglasses, and being careful during peak hours of the day, children can learn good, lifelong habits for protecting themselves from skin-damaging sun exposure. Parents and schools can help children learn how to have fun in the sun and prevent themselves from health problems.”

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1 million Americans will be diagnosed with some type of skin cancer this year. Approximately 53,600 new cases of the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, are expected to be diagnosed in 2002 and an estimated 9,600 will die. When detected early, approximately 95 percent of these cancers can be cured. Although death rates from skin cancers are low, they can cause damage and disfigurement if left untreated.

The guidelines which were developed by HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), school officials, experts from universities, medical and national organizations, and health agencies—include sun-safety advice for school children from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

The guidelines emphasize that:

  • skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and new cases and deaths from its deadliest form, melanoma, have been increasing dramatically;
  • exposure to the sun during childhood and teen years is a major contributor to developing skin cancer;
  • to be most effective and efficient, school-based approaches to skin cancer prevention should be part of a coordinated school health program—no single strategy can solve the problem; and
  • schools can do many things to create supportive, caring environments that make skin cancer prevention a priority.

This year, CDC will also engage in the fifth year of its Choose Your Cover skin cancer public education campaign. The campaign advises teens and young adults to play it safe when outdoors and protect their skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Steps they can take to prevent or reduce their risk of skin cancer include:

  • wear clothes, hats and sunglasses to protect the skin;
  • use a sunscreen effective against UVA and UVB radiation and with a sun protection factor of 15 or more;
  • limit exposure to the sun during the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; and
  • seek shade, especially from the mid-day sun.

For more information visit the Choose Your Cover Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/chooseyourcover/.

“Even a few serious sunburns can increase a person’s risk for skin cancer,” said Secretary Thompson. “Our nation’s schools are important partners in teaching kids about how to protect themselves from the sun’s rays while they continue to be physically active.”

HHS supports a broad array of activities to help reduce the burden of skin cancer:

  • CDC monitors national trends in sun protection behaviors and attitudes about sun exposure. Findings are used to better target and evaluate skin cancer prevention efforts. CDC also has convened the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention (http://www.skincancerprevention.org*), alliance of nonprofit health organizations, and has created the Federal Council on Skin Cancer Prevention to promote sun-safe behaviors among federal employees, their families and agency constituents.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides consumers with information about sunscreen, tanning products and sun safety to help them make informed decisions about sun protection, as well as information about the risk for photosensitivity associated with medication use and sun exposure.
  • National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides information to the public and health professionals about detection, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. More information about NCI programs is available by calling 1-800-4-CANCER or by visiting http://www.cancer.gov on the Web.