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Study identifies ‘sunscreen paradox’

The use of sunscreen may be accelerating melanoma and skin cancer rates because patients see sunscreen as a ‘permission slip to tan,’ according to Dr. Ivan Litvinov.

In a study published in Cancers, Dr. Litvinov and colleagues including co-authors Dr. Sandra Peláez, Dr. Richie Jeremian, and Dr. Pingxing Xie from McGill University in Montreal conducted 23 focus groups to try to understand the factors that may help to explain varying incidence rates of melanoma in the Canadian Maritime provinces. (A previous report of their findings examining economic and gender-based factors that may influence higher rates of melanoma in Atlantic Canada was published in on Sept. 10, 2023.)

In the current study, the researchers found that Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island residents—provinces with high melanoma incidence rates—were more likely to report using sun protection, were more aware of the health risks of sun exposure, and were more apt to follow the UV index. However, they also received more sun exposure due to warmer temperatures and a propensity to engage in outdoor activities.

Similarly, in a study of the United Kingdom Biobank by Drs. Jeremian, Xie, and Litvinov published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, the researchers documented that the use of sunscreen was surprisingly associated with a more than two-fold risk of developing skin cancer.

In a press release, Dr. Litvinov said: “These combined findings suggest a sunscreen paradox, whereby individuals with higher levels of sun exposure also tend to use more but not an adequate quantity of sunscreen or other sun-protection measures, providing a false sense of security.” He is Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine and Chair of the Dermatology Division at McGill University. “People think they are protected from skin cancer because they are using a product marketed to prevent a condition.”

The authors conclude: “Tailored sun protection campaigns must consider this sunscreen paradox and the unique norms of communities in Atlantic Canada and elsewhere in the world to design effective messaging.”


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