Soldiers who are deployed into locations with tropical and sunny climates are returning to the United States with a higher risk of developing skin cancer, as concluded by a retrospective study of the the post-deployment clinic, at the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which included approximately 200 veterans.
This study, presented at the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin in Edinburgh, Scotland, led dermatology specialists from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System to register reports from veteran soldiers.
The results demonstrated that 62% of soldiers got sunburned during their deployment abroad, which included cases of skin blistering. Twenty-nine percent of the patients also reported changes of color, shape or size of their moles since their return, which represent a skin cancer risk factor. However, only 4% of them were examined by a physician.
“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,” explained lead researcher of the study, Jennifer Powers, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Dermatology in a Vanderbilt University press release.
While 77% of the veterans worked for more than four hours per day exposed to bright sunlight, only 27% of them regularly used sunscreen, while 32% said they had no access to sunscreen at all. Almost a quarter (22%) of the military were made very aware of the risks of sun exposure, according to the study.
Powers believes that the study not only provides important data about the disease, but it also demonstrates a potential deficiency in preventing skin cancer within the military population deployed, which can represent long-term health risks. “This study demonstrates room for improvement for skin cancer prevention and early detection in the military population, including possible screening of higher-risk personnel,” she added.