U.S. military personnel are more likely to develop skin cancer than the general population, according to a review of nine published studies in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JADD).
The findings apply to both active duty service members and veterans. The military’s demographics include two groups known to have high rates of skin cancer: Caucasians and men over 50. Additionally, military personnel are often exposed to high levels of ultraviolet radiation, which can increase one’s risk for both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer.
“From the Pacific Theater in World War II to more recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military members have been deployed to areas where they face prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays,” says dermatologist Jennifer G. Powers, MD, FAAD, one of the authors of the JAAD article. “This exposure is even more intense for those serving in desert environments because the sun’s rays reflect off of sand.”
The risk of skin cancer among military personnel is further compounded because sun protection is not a priority among active duty service members. And for many soldiers, skin cancer prevention strategies — like wearing protective clothing that is not part of their uniform, or carrying and applying sunscreen — are simply not feasible during deployment.
“U.S. military personnel face a unique set of skin cancer risk factors,” says Oliver J. Wisco, DO, FAAD, in an accompanying editorial. “While they may not be able to take steps to reduce their risk during their deployment, they can take steps to detect skin cancer early, when it’s most treatable.”