27.3% of Skin Cancer Victims Forgot the Sunscreen (Again)

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As summer approaches, you're probably beginning to wonder: Do I really have to slather on sunscreen in order to protect myself from skin cancer? Well, if you trust empirical research — or listen to the Center for Disease Control — the answer is yes. Still, skepticism is understandable, since just 76,600 people, or about 0.0002 percent of the U.S. population, are diagnosed with melanoma (the deadliest kind of skin cancer) per year. But among those who have no right to be skeptical — that is, victims of actual skin cancer — not using sunscreen remains remarkably common. According to a study presented at a conference hosted by American Association for Cancer Research on Monday, a full 27.3 percent of people who were previously diagnosed with a form of skin cancer still decline to apply sunscreen when going out into the sun. (By contrast, about a third of the general population refuses to use sunscreen.)

A panel of doctors speaking to NBC News attributed this odd phenomenon to two different theories: that excessive exposure to sunlight (or tanning) is addictive, and that American culture valorizes bronzed skin. The first theory is, in fact, grounded in reality; two studies, both carried out in 2010, showed that those who repeatedly used tanning beds showed signs of "addictive behavior," like having difficulty not tanning or falling into horrible moods when denied a tanning sessions. The second theory is observably true — as anyone who's seen Spring Breakers can attest — but the way this bears on the victims of skin cancer is less clear. After all, people who overdo it, like the cast of Jersey Shore and, most infamously, Tanning Mom Patricia Krentcil, are ridiculed by the same culture.

In any case, Spring Breakers provides a timely window into the society that gave rise to serial sunbathing (and spray-on tanning, which attempts to mimic its effects): 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.