Task Force: Tell young patients to stay out of sun
May 7th, 2012
05:01 PM ET

Task Force: Tell young patients to stay out of sun

The group that sparked an outcry of criticism with its advice on mammograms and prostate cancer screening, said Monday that doctors should counsel young people to avoid sun exposure, to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

The advice applies to fair-haired people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to guidelines released Monday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.  For adults older than 24, there is not enough evidence to say whether counseling about sun exposure makes a difference, according to the Task Force. The guidelines are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

With children younger than 10, counseling on sun exposure should be directed towards parents, said Dr. David Grossman, a member of the Task Force, a pediatrician and senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. Patients age 10 to 24 should be told to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or above, to cover exposed areas of skin, stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m and to shun indoor tanning booths, Grossman said.

Some doctors say the advice doesn't go far enough.  "I would recommend counseling at younger ages," said Dr. Sophie Balk of Children's Hospital at Montefiore, in New York City. "We should start talking to parents as soon as babies are born, but as children get older and go out of the home, they should listen to the message, too."

Balk, the lead author of guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics last year, also said the message should be broader. "The Task Force is telling us to focus on people with the lightest skin and eyes. Fair-skinned people are at highest risk, but everyone's at risk for skin cancer."

The Task Force is used to criticism. In 2009 its members took heat for saying that women in their 40s don’t need routine mammograms, and again last year for saying the PSA screening test for prostate cancer leads to more harm than good.

The last time it tackled the sun exposure issue, the Task Force said there was insufficient evidence to recommend counseling. To update its guidance, members examined existing studies on the impact of a doctor giving patients advice about sun exposure.  Almost all of those studies focus on fair-skinned patients younger than 24, Grossman said. “Our statement does not discourage counseling for older people,” he said, “but on a doctor visit you have a limited amount of time. Basically, we’re trying to point out where the greatest value seems to be.”

The American Cancer Society (ACS) praised the announcement as "important."

"They make the point that there's convincing evidence these conversations change the behavior," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of the ACS. "This is the age group that's most vulnerable, to getting sunburns, using tanning booths and increasing the risk of getting melanomas later in life."

Exposure during childhood to UV radiation from the sun is linked to a moderate increase in three types of skin cancer: Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, and melanoma. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, diagnosed in more than 2 million people a year. Melanoma is the least common but most deadly form of skin cancer, striking about 70,000 people last year and killing 8,800.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    Lock the kids in a dark room, tell them not to tease anybody and not to engage in sports or any fun stuff. Feed them nothing but natural food and water from glacier runoff. Oh don't vaccinate against crippling diseases or allow them to eat trick or treat candy...:)

    May 7, 2012 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. skottikins

    @portland tony Yeah let's mock good advice by taking it to an unrealistic extreme to prove our point. Great idea.

    May 7, 2012 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Portland tony

      Depending upon homework requirements, kids should be allowed to run, play ball, swim etc...get them out of the house before video takes over...Use sun screen even if the afternoon rays are weak. Believe me, a kid with a light tan

      May 7, 2012 at 21:11 | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      ......does and feels better than an indoor kid ever will!

      May 7, 2012 at 21:16 | Report abuse |
    • I call BS

      And you can cite proof of your claims PT?

      Not if past experience with your idiocy is any predictor.

      May 7, 2012 at 23:32 | Report abuse |
  3. skinTagged b/c of SunDamage!

    The Sun is bad!!! USE SUNSCREEN ALWAYS.

    May 7, 2012 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Portland tony

    @BS SORRY..... more important things to do than communicate with a troll.

    May 8, 2012 at 07:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. David T

    I recently heard a doctor say that they are discovering people need a lot more vitamin D than thought once before, to prevent many future diseases. You can get huge amounts of vitamin D from the sun, especially if you were to exercise outdoors. Is this habit of absorbing the sun, as long as it is done in moderation; increase wellness for many? Can new efforts for people to exercise outdoors be created; so to absorb more sunshine and prevent many future diseases?
    Studies have shown when people exercise daily, both students and workers alike; they perform better at school and at work. Can less traveled streets be closed to traffic, so kids may bike for an hour or so, to get that exercise? Can some streets be closed to traffic, so students could bike to and from school? This could be done on better weather days. Can promoting a new effort for people to donate old bikes to be refurbished? Then sold for a deep discount to kids across our nation. Bike helmets should be sold as well.
    Can more less traveled streets be closed during the Summer Months, so kids may exercise outdoors, like biking? At the same time, these kids will absorb more sunshine to prevent many future diseases in their lives. This could also be done for an hour or so each day.
    Finally, is it true people need a lot more vitamin D than thought once before, to prevent many future diseases? Is there a new amount of time to be exposed to the sun; where you get enough vitamin D? Yet not too much to increase skin cancer rates? Is it true people can better manage their weight if they were to exercise outdoors? Please explain.

    May 8, 2012 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ethics Board

    Ha, like telling teenagers to not do something ever stopped them. The only thing that works is scare tactics. Show them an autopsy brain of someone with malignant melanoma. Or the fragility of someone with end stage cancer. Then you might change a few minds... but only a few.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Mallory

    Im glad I am informed about being safe in the sun because three people in my family have had skin cancer but I know that I should wear sub screen so I don't get it.

    May 21, 2012 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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