Skin cancer coalition members seek to decrease skin cancer incidence & mortality in the state

May 26, 2021

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. At least one out of every five adults may develop skin cancer within their lifespan. Every year, 10,000 individuals in Hawaiʻi will be diagnosed with a skin cancer. The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center and members of the Hawaiʻi Skin Cancer Coalition (HSCC) educate the public on skin cancer and skin cancer prevention in hopes of lowering skin cancer incidence and mortality throughout the state.

Types of skin cancer

There are three major types of skin cancer. Basal cell and squamous cell, which occur in the base and upper layers of the skin, are more easily treated when detected early. Melanomas, which occur in the cells that give skin its pigment, are more aggressive as they have a tendency to quickly spread to other sites. In Hawaiʻi, approximately 400 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year.

“Skin cancers are the most common and most preventable type of cancer,” said UH Cancer Center Researcher Kevin Cassel, DrPH, MPH. “Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a major risk factor for skin cancers–especially in Hawaiʻi. Our close proximity to the equator means our sun rays are more direct, which puts Hawaiʻi residents at year-round risk for skin cancers.”

Skin cancer prevention

There are a number of measures you can take to reduce your risk for skin cancer. Hawaiʻi’s close proximity to the equator makes it hard to escape the sun. The sun is brightest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., therefore, it is best to seek shade during these times. Try to avoid tanning and getting sunburned, and do not use UV tanning beds. In addition to wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, cover up with UV-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. During extended outdoor activity, apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every 2 hours. Examine your skin each month for any unusual red patches or moles, and see a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional exam.

“Our studies have found that adolescents and young adults in Hawaiʻi are not aware of their risk for skin cancer. In addition, multiethnic and multi-complexion populations may underestimate their risk for skin cancer with the belief that those with darker complexions have a lower risk for the disease,” said Cassel. May is Melanoma/National Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Awareness Month and National Cancer Research Month. Cassel’s studies increase awareness about the importance of protecting your skin. “Through our collaboration with the HSCC, we hope to help people better understand and reduce their risk, and as a result, lower the incidence of skin cancer.”

Summer is coming up quickly, which means that many of us will begin to spend more time in the sun. Be sun protective while driving, enjoying the beach, participating in outdoor activities, gardening, exercising outdoors, and shopping at outdoor farmers markets and malls. Incorporate sun protective practices within your daily routine, just as you would brush your teeth in the morning.

Hawaiʻi Skin Cancer Coalition (HSCC)

The UH Cancer Center is one of the founding members of the HSCC, whose mission is to provide clear, concise messages on skin cancer prevention and early detection for both the public and health professionals. The HSCC is a collaborative effort between local organizations and businesses that share the common goal of preventing skin cancer. The Coalition promotes sun protection education in Hawaiʻi, in a manner that is mindful of the rich cultural diversity in the state and focuses on community access.

The HSCC coordinates free skin cancer screenings at public venues and events. Between 2010 and 2013, volunteer dermatologists identified 587 skin conditions in individuals screened and information was provided to ensure receipt of appropriate care. Speakers from HSCC have provided education presentations tailored to an array of audiences, including medical professionals and health care providers, groups with increased risk due to personal and professional sun exposure, community groups, businesses, and non-profit organizations whose members wish to broaden their knowledge about skin cancer. The HSCC’s educational efforts have also included presentations and educational programs for children and teens at local schools.

One of the HSCC’s most recent endeavors is the development of a website for the Coalition. Currently, you can go to the menu link “Check Your Skin” that features the American Academy of Dermatology’s “Detect Skin Cancer: How to Perform a Skin Self Exam” video.

HSCC members include the UH Cancer Center, American Cancer Society, Hawaiʻi Pathologists’ Laboratory, the Hawaiʻi Dermatological Society, Kaiser Permanente, Kuakini Health System, the Hawaiʻi Lifeguard Association, Queen’s Healthcare Plan, Hawaiʻi Ophthalmological Society, and the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Dermatology Interest Group.