One Hand on Wheel, One at Risk for Skin Cancer
Cruising with the windows down and the wind in their hair is how many people like to drive. But that open feeling could be costly.
New research suggests that people in the USA are more likely to develop skin cancer, including melanoma and merkel cell carcinoma, on the left side of their bodies. Driving may be to blame: The left arm receives more ultraviolet radiation, say researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle who analyzed cancer cases recorded in a government database.
They found that when skin cancer occurred on one side of the body, 52% of melanoma cases and 53% of merkel cell carcinomas were on the left side. On the upper arms, 55% of merkel cell cases developed on the left side. The study, published online in April in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, provides the strongest evidence to date of a left-side bias in skin cancer cases in the USA.
More than 68,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2010, and 8,700 people died from it, the National Cancer Institute says.
Other research supports the idea that sun exposure while driving can contribute to cancer. In countries where people drive on the opposite side of the road, the right arm gets more sun. Researchers cited a 1986 study that found Australian men were more likely to get precancerous growths on their right sides.
Even so, car windows do block most UVB rays, an intense form of UV that causes sunburns. "The reality is that any of the glass in the car will get out most of the bad UV," says study co-author Paul Nghiem.
He adds that UVA rays, though less intense, penetrate glass and can still cause damage to the skin over time. For people prone to skin cancer who spend a lot of time driving, sunscreen may be "prudent," the study says.
Co-author Kelly Paulson adds that passengers are also at risk.
The database did not contain details on skin cancer patients' driving or other habits, such as whether they tended to ride with the window up or down.
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