- Evidence shows that policies, programs and personal practices are effective in decreasing solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure.
- Protection from solar UVR is an important component of cancer control because solar UVR is a significant cause of skin cancer.
- In 2014, there were an estimated 39,400 cases of skin cancer in Ontario, making it the most common type of cancer. The incidence rate of melanoma, the most deadly form for skin cancer, has been rising in Ontario.
Policies, programs and personal practices that help protect against exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) are crucial for reducing the incidence (new cases) of skin cancer in Ontario. Reducing exposure to solar UVR is so important because it is a significant cause of skin cancer. In 2014, it was estimated that there were 39,400 cases of skin cancer in Ontario, making it the most common type of cancer. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, has been increasing in incidence in Ontario over the last 3 decades.
Sun Protection Policies and Programs
Solar UVR exposure can be reduced through policies and programs aimed at the population as a whole, and targeted interventions for groups with higher exposure or enhanced susceptibility to solar UVR, such as children, adolescents, young adults and outdoor workers. Policies and programs for reducing UVR exposure are more likely to be effective when multiple interventions are implemented at the same time.
Implementing shade policies in local municipalities is one way to protect the general population from solar UVR exposure. Some local municipalities in Ontario have shade policies that help protect the general population in places like parks, bicycle trails, and other public and private areas. Built structures and tree canopies can also provide shade. A review of shade policies in select local municipalities was included in Cancer Care Ontario’s 2016 Prevention System Quality Index. Multi-component, community-wide public education strategies are another way to reduce UVR exposure in the general population.
Targeted interventions in specific settings, such as child care facilities, elementary schools, workplaces and recreational settings, have been found to be effective in preventing skin cancer. These interventions should include environmental supports, such as shade structures, education about sun protection, and policy measures, such as policies that reduce the time spent outdoors during peak UVR hours.
Several organizations in Ontario, including local public health units, are working on sun protection policies and programs. The Ontario Sun Safety Working Group, that Cancer Care Ontario is a member of, is a partnership of individuals and organizations working together to reduce the impact of solar and artificial ultraviolet radiation on human health.
Personal Practices for Improving Sun Protection
Personal sun protection is an important component of reducing exposure to solar UVR. National surveys found that in 2006, Ontario residents spent more time in the sun without improving their sun protection behaviours than in 1996. In 2016, 28 national and provincial organizations, including Cancer Care Ontario, participated in a consensus process to update national public education messages for skin cancer prevention and eye health protection. The Canadian Sun Safety Guidelines, summarized below, provide consistent and evidence-based messaging about sun protection, which is critical to improving sun protection behaviours.
Canadian Sun Safety Guidelines
- Check UV Index daily. When the UV Index reaches 3 or more, you need to be extra careful to protect your skin. In general, the UV Index in Canada can be 3 or more from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. between April and September, even when it’s cloudy.
- Seek shade or bring your own.
- Cover up as much of your skin as you can with tightly woven or UV-protective labelled clothing. Clothes provide better protection than sunscreen.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat that covers your head, face, ears and neck.
- Wear close fitting sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection in a wraparound style. The label might have UV 400 or 100% UV protection on it.
- Apply broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 properly. Use a lip balm with SPF and reapply when needed.
- Don’t use indoor tanning. Tanning beds and sun lamps release UV rays that can damage skin, cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer.
For a personalized approach to help reduce your risk of melanoma or other cancers, visit My CancerIQ. This website allows people in Ontario to complete risk assessment questionnaires for melanoma, female breast, cervical, colorectal, kidney and lung cancers, and provides personalized action plans containing information about cancer prevention and credible behaviour change resources.