Skin Cancer Risk High During Deployment

by U.S. Medicine

December 8, 2014

NASHVILLE – Military personnel deployed abroad in climates such as Afghanistan and Iraq have increased risk factors for skin cancer, according to a new study.

The increased risk is especially present when servicemembers serve in tropical and sunny climates, according to a presentation at the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin, held recently in Edinburgh, Scotland.1

Researchers from the Tennessee Valley VA Healthcare System and Vanderbilt University, both in Nashville, performed a retrospective study of about 200 veterans seen at the post-deployment clinic of the Nashville VAMC and found that 62% of military personnel reported getting sunburned while deployed abroad, including cases of skin blistering. In addition, 29% had noted a change in the color, shape or size of their moles since being deployed to tropical zones, but only 4 % reported receiving a skin examination from a physician since deployment.

“The past decade of United States combat missions, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, have occurred at a more equatorial latitude than the mean center of the United States population, increasing the potential for ultraviolet irradiance and the development of skin cancer,” said lead researcher Jennifer Powers, MD.

The study also found that only 22% of military personnel were made very aware of the risks of sun exposure, and only 27% had regular access to sunscreen, even though 77% said they had been exposed to bright sunlight for more than four hours a day.

In fact, slightly fewer than one-third of respondents (32%) reported having no access to sunscreen at all while working.

Previous research cited in the literature indicated that 34% of U.S. military veterans who developed melanoma had also been deployed to tropical climates. In comparison, only 6% of non-military melanoma patients had spent time in tropical climates.

“This study demonstrates room for improvement for skin cancer prevention and early detection in the military population, including possible screening of higher-risk personnel,” Powers noted.

1 Powers, J, Patel N, Powers E, Stricklin H, Geller A. (2014, September). Incidence of skin cancer risk factors experienced by United States military personnel during recent overseas deployments. Presented at the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin, Edinburgh. Scotland.


2 Comments

  • David Romanoff, MD says:

    The article would seem to imply that Iraq and Afghanistan are tropical. Neither is tropical:
    Latitude of Afghanistan is about 30-38 degrees north
    Latitude of Iraq is about 30-36 degrees north
    Latitude of continental USA is about 30 to 50 degrees north
    therefore both Iraq and Afghanistan are similar in latitude to the southern half of the US.

  • David Romanoff, MD says:

    The article would seem to imply that Iraq and Afghanistan are tropical. Neither is tropical:
    Latitude of Afghanistan is about 30-38 degrees north
    Latitude of Iraq is about 30-36 degrees north
    Latitude of continental USA is about 30 to 50 degrees north
    therefore both Iraq and Afghanistan are similar in latitude to the southern half of the US.


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