Sunny-side down: More than one million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year

July 23, 2007

Skin cancer diagnoses are on the rise with more than one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. this year. But despite the statistics, only a handful of late-stage agents remain in development for metastatic melanoma.

Key Points

Most people believe, and rightly so, that all you need to do is stay out of the sun or apply sunscreen every day. But they could be wrong in one respect. Although staying out of the sun-even if it were possible-could do the trick, applying sunscreen may not be affording you the protection you think you're getting. Sunscreens are not being adequately regulated, argue some. There has been a recent push by Congress, consumer groups, and individual senators for the Food & Drug Administration to enforce mandatory standards for sunscreens, such as incorporating UVA protection into its regulation and investigating the health effects of nano-sized chemicals used in some products. At long last, it seems change may be on the way.

Under my skin

Obtained by repeated sun exposure, a suntan, once considered healthy and beautiful, has been redefined over the years as one of the main risks for skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. This has spawned numerous campaigns on the part of dermatology groups, cancer organizations, and various other agencies to promote the importance of using sunscreens, including the development of draft guidelines by the FDA on sunscreen standards in 1999. These guidelines contained a list of allowed sunscreen ingredients, required manufacturers to do sun protection factor (SPF) testing for UVB radiation protection, and provided methods by which to determine a sunscreen's water-resistant properties (see Table 1). But, despite all this, the FDA has recently come under fire for its failure to issue its final regulations, and critics say the inaction has left consumers wondering exactly what is in these products.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D, Conn.) and five other senators are among the critics. They sent a letter to FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach back in May. "We are writing to express our strong support for the FDA to issue a comprehensive sunscreen monograph that includes strong standards for protection against cancer-causing UVA rays as well as UVB," the group wrote. The letter also highlighted the fact that currently, the FDA requires sunscreen to provide protection only against UVB radiation-the spectrum that causes sunburn-but ignores the UVA rays, now known to be a cause of premature aging and a major contributor to skin cancer development. Sens. Jack Reed (D, R.I.), Hillary Clinton (D, N.Y.), Joe Biden (D, Del.), Tom Carper (D, Del.), and Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.), who also signed the correspondence, pointed out that other countries, including the European Union, have already adopted these changes and require broad-spectrum coverage in their sunscreen products.