Is skin cancer in your job description?

Those of us working from offices, or our own homes, aren’t expecting danger pay.  However, what about those who have jobs that heighten the risk of getting skin cancer?  

While many jobs may fit that bill, data on one group is startling: according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, serving in the US military means you are 60% more likely to develop skin cancer. 

 Recently, it has been revealed that a number of veterans have gone through as many as 20 surgeries and multiple treatments for skin cancer, as a result of their time in service. A 2018 review, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), suggested that service in tropical environments was associated with an increased incidence of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer among World War II soldiers. The authors also noted that risk was varied between divisions, with the highest rates found in the United States Air Force.1 For ground-based military, prolonged sun exposure in areas with a high UV-index and poor protection were found to induce skin DNA damage, leading to elevated skin cancer rates. 

 In an interview with ABC Action News, Roy Breitenbach, an 80-year-old US Marine veteran who has been battling basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) for over a decade said, “I’m not shocked. We spend a lot of time in the sun… and back then there was no such thing as sunblock. We were just out in the sun.” BCC and SCC are both caused by long-term sun exposure, the result of repeated and cumulative damage from ultraviolet (UV) light.  

 On the other side of the Atlantic, research into skin cancer risks from military service is less coherent. However, a European-wide study of skin cancer in outdoor workers concluded that the risk of BCC, SCC, melanoma and actinic keratosis (AK) were significantly increased for workers with over five years of outdoor work. The reasons for this were listed as greater UV exposure (both occupational and leisure), poorer sunscreen use and lower health literacy.  

Examples of outdoor occupations involving substantial periods outdoors 
Construction workers 
Farmers / farm workers 
Military personnel  
Pilots and air crew 
Postal workers  
Sports instructors, especially water sports 
Alarmingly, research has consistently shown that workers in each of these fields often don’t protect themselves adequately, even when the know the risks. One study showed 1/3 of agricultural and construction workers had been sunburnt in the previous year. 


So, when you are scoping out a possible job, investigate more than its perks and benefits … find out about all the risks. Regardless of your occupation, it is important to minimise your risk of skin cancer, and slow UV-induced skin damage by protecting exposed areas of skin with UV-protective clothing and broad-spectrum sunscreen.  As world experts in light and skin biology, CLINUVEL introduced the concepts of medicinal photoprotection, and we are excited to be translating our technology for the benefit of broader audiences.


1 In fact,  a 2014 review in JAMA Dermatology, published by the American Medical Association, suggested that commercial pilots and crew are also at greater risk, with twice the incidence of melanoma compared with the general population. For flight-based workers in particular, the greater occupational risk is thought to be caused by repeated altitude-related exposure to UV and cosmic radiation. That said, more modern aircraft windows are typically built with far greater UV block, and there isn’t substantial evidence to suggest that passengers are submitted to an increased risk.  


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