FRIDAY, Sept. 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. military troops deployed to sunny climates may have an increased risk of skin cancer, according to a new study.
Many returning troops reported getting sunburned while serving abroad, researchers revealed. In some cases, military personnel developed blisters on their skin or noticed a change in the color, shape or size of their moles since being deployed overseas.
All of these things can be risk factors for skin cancer, the study authors noted.
"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 U.S. population, increasing the potential for ultraviolet irradiance and the development of skin cancer," explained the study's lead researcher, Dr. Jennifer Powers. She is an assistant professor in the division of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
The study involved roughly 200 U.S. veterans examined at the post-deployment clinic of the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Of these vets, just over 60 percent developed sunburns while serving overseas. Almost 30 percent had worrisome changes in their moles since being deployed to a region with a hot climate, according to the study.
Only 4 percent of these troops reported having their skin examined by a doctor since being deployed, the researchers noted in a university news release.
Although almost 80 percent of the veterans said they worked in direct sunlight for more than four hours daily, only about one-quarter were advised about the risks associated with exposure to the sun's harmful UV rays. The study also found that just 27 percent of the troops had regular access to sunscreen while they were working. Almost one-third said they had no access to sunscreen while working.
Although avoiding sunburn may not be a high priority for troops serving overseas, not providing U.S. military personnel access to sunscreen could increase their long-term health risks, the researchers cautioned. Melanoma skin cancer claims almost 10,000 lives in the United States each year, according to the news release.
"This study demonstrates room for improvement for skin cancer prevention and early detection in the military population, including possible screening of higher-risk personnel," Powers said.
The study was presented at the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin in Edinburgh, Scotland. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about skin cancer.