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Health Services Research & Development

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Spotlight: Skin Cancer


The arrival of summer often means more time spent outdoors, soaking up the sun. While limited sun exposure can provide benefits like vitamin D, too much sun has been shown to increase the risk for developing skin cancer�the most prevalent type of cancer in the U.S.

According to the National Cancer Institute, almost 2,000,0001 cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers will be diagnosed in 2012. Also known as "non-melanoma" skin cancers, both basal cell and squamous cell cancers are primarily a result of cumulative sun exposure. The good news is that both forms are highly treatable. Less common, but more serious, is melanoma. While melanoma is highly treatable if found in its early stages, it can spread to other organs and tissues if left untreated. The National Cancer Institute estimates that melanoma will account for more than 75,000 cases of skin cancer in 2012.

  • Cumulative, excessive sun exposure. Sunlight is a source of ultraviolet radiation, and excessive sun exposure is the biggest single risk factor for any skin cancer. In addition, the total amount of sun exposure over a lifetime increases skin cancer risk
  • Severe, blistering sunburn. Having had at least one blistering sunburn increases the risk for skin cancer
  • Tanning. Having a tan can lower sunburn risk, but those who tan well without burning still have a higher risk of skin cancer because of more lifetime sun exposure. Using tanning booths regularly before age 30 has also been shown to greatly increase skin cancer risk.
  • Family history. Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives who have melanoma increases the risk for it.
  • Fair skin, light eyes; skin that burns easily. Having fair or pale skin, or skin that sunburns easily, blue or gray eyes, red or blond hair, or having many freckles increases the risk of skin cancer.
  • VA Research and Skin Cancer

    Within VA, skin cancer is a concern for Veterans, many of whom experience higher cumulative sun exposure during active duty�for example, Veterans deployed to the Pacific during World War II had higher rates of basal cell cancer than their counterparts deployed to Europe.

    To aid with skin cancer prevention, detection, and treatment, VA health services researchers conduct investigations into different aspects of skin cancer, including:

  • Comparing treatment options and long-term outcomes for non-melanoma skin cancer
  • Looking at recurrence rates for non-melanoma cancers
  • Using teledermatolgy to increase access for Veterans who may not be able to easily see a dermatologist

  • To learn more about skin cancer research in VA, visit the Resources links, at right. For more information about skin cancer signs, symptoms, and prevention, visit the National Cancer Institute's skin cancer information homepage.

    1 NCI Cancer Topics: Skin Cancer main page (

    2 NCI Cancer Topics: Melanoma main page (

    3 NCI Cancer Topics: Melanoma and other skin cancers: What you need to know (

    Questions about the HSR&D website? Email the Web Team

    Any health information on this website is strictly for informational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any condition.