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Is Sunbathing more dangerous than driving a car #BuckleUpSkinSafety

Posted on Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Is Sunbathing more dangerous than driving a car #BuckleUpSkinSafety

A recent study by JAMA Dermatology finds that globally more than 419,000 new skin cancer cases can be attributed to indoor tanning each year, which is 15% higher than the cases of lung cancers attributable to smoking. These results are not surprising according to the US Skin Cancer Foundation and are discussed intensively in social media.

While a comparison in general is certainly helpful to explain the potency of a risk that affects us in a gradual, obscure and in a seemingly un-noticeable manner like that of skin cancer; the physical visibility of the risk of smoking that it has been compared with, is very vague and unnoticeable in itself. Therefore we feel a better approach might be to compare skin cancer risks in general, of which greater than 90% of cases are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation, but with something all of us do on a daily basis: For example driving a car. The idea is to bring forth a negligent attitude we have towards the skin cancer, by use of a comparison that we can immediately relate to and understand.

Not all skin cancer types required to be notified to authorities

Hence we have compiled a table which compares the latest available annual number of fatalities due to road accidents and due to skin cancer. Although we have researched the corresponding values very carefully, two limitations apply. Firstly, several national statistic authorities report only the melanomastatistics, thus excluding other skin cancer types such as basal and squamous cell carcinoma, which are not required to be notified to authorities. This means that in fact the skin cancer figures for several countries should be higher than stated in the table below. Secondly, some statistic bureaus do not publish reports annually. So you will find countries where we have compared data from different years. But given that this is the first such comparison of its kind to best of our knowledge, we feel that these uncertainties should not affect the gravity of the argument we want to contribute to the discussion.

Cited from national statistics bureaus and traffic authorities

For ease of use, the sources are linked to the individual numbers. We have cited from publications of national statistics bureaus and traffic authorities for imparting more authenticity to our analysis, if you have better or additional sources, please leave a comment.

Comparative risk of UV-Exposure for selected western countries
Country Annual road traffic deaths (latest year) Annual skin cancer deaths (latest year)* Registration of all skin cancer types Likelihood of dying of skin cancer compared to traffic accidents
Australia 1,193
(2013)
2,036
(2012)
yes +71%
Austria 455
(2013)
356*
(2011)
no -12%
Canada 2,077
(2012)
1,019*
(2009)
no -51%
France 3,250
(2013)
1,831*
(2012)
no -14%
Germany 3,339
(2013)
3.563
(2012)
yes +7%
Ireland 162
(2012)
227
(2011)
yes +40%
New Zealand 290
(2014)
324*
(2010)
no +12%
Portugal 937
(2010)
264*
(2012)
no -72%
Spain 1,128
(2013)
1,526
(2010)
yes +35%
Switzerland 269
(2013)
302*
(average 2007-2011)
no +12%
UK 1,173
(2013)
2,148*
(2012)
no +25%
USA 33,561
(2012)
12,650*
(2013)
no -62%

Numbers speak for themselves

In the table above, we see that in Australia, that skin cancer deaths at 2,036 are alarmingly 71% higher than road traffic deaths. We notice that this is true for most of the other countries we looked at. Also worth mentioning is the fact that in many countries the deaths caused by melanoma and non-melanoma are not required to be notified. Consequently, countries that have an incomplete register, understate the risk of natural and artificial UV-exposure. This observation calls for an introspection and change of attitudes on how to deal with skin cancer deaths.

Regardless the exact ratio, it is evident that skin cancer is a very relevant cause of death. If you reflect at the mere numbers, you feel that when compared to traffic safety, skin safety is treated absolutely disproportionally in our daily lives. Just think about how often you remind your friends, colleagues and loved ones to buckle up! Would you really ask them with similar insistence to protect their skin?