Driving May Increase Risk of Skin Cancer

A new study conducted at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine has found that time spent driving an automobile may increase the risk of getting skin cancer. The findings were presented today by Dr. Scott W. Fosko at the American Academy of Dermatology’s 2007 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The new research examined the incidence of left-sided skin cancers in patients along with their driving trends. “Since previous scientific findings have shown an association between one-sided exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) and an asymmetric facial distribution of sun damage, we would expect that skin cancers also would be more prevalent on the left side of the body in drivers who spend a significant amount of time in their cars,” said Dr. Fosko. “Our initial findings confirm that there is a correlation between more time spent driving and a higher incidence of left-sided skin cancers, especially on sun-exposed areas in men.”

A cohort of 898 patients (559 men and 339 women) with skin cancers occurring on either side of the body were included the review conducted by Dr. Fosko and his research team. Of the 53 percent of left-sided skin cancers that occurred in this group of patients, they report, 64 percent of left-sided skin cancers were found in men and only 36 percent were found in women. Dr. Fosko also noted a statistically significant number of left-sided skin cancers on sun-exposed areas (such as the head, neck, arms, and hands) in men, but not in women, which directly correlates to the areas of the body most often exposed to UV radiation while driving.

Dr. Fosko also discovered a significant subset of skin cancers were “caused by cumulative sun exposure rather than the more common form of melanoma that occurs from intense, intermittent sun exposure” and that 70 percent of patients with this type of cancer (known as lentigo malignas) occurred on the left side. “This finding supports our theory that drivers who regularly spend more time in the car over the course of several years are more likely to develop skin cancers on the left side of the body, particularly skin cancers that develop gradually over time.”

“Our initial data shows that those individuals under age 70 who consistently spent the most time per week driving a car were more likely to develop left-sided skin cancers,” he added. “We’re also finding that all drivers who occasionally drive with the windows open had a higher incidence of left-sided skin cancers. Light skin complexion and more driving time also increased the risk for forming skin cancers on the left side.”

Dr. Fosko recommends wearing sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) and protective clothing while driving, and also suggested that tinted windows and UV filters may also help reduce the risks.

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