U.S. drivers more likely to develop ‘left side’ 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, according to a story in USA Today.

New research suggests that people in the USA are more likely to develop skin cancer, such as melanoma and merkel cell carcinoma, on the left side of their bodies. Driving may be to blame, because the left arm receives more UV, said researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle, who analyzed cancer cases in a government database

They found that when skin cancer occurred on one side of the body, 52 percent of melanoma cases and 53 percent of merkel cell carcinomas were on the left side. On the upper arms, 55 percent of merkel cell cases developed on the left side.

The study, published online in April by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, provided the strongest evidence to date of a left-side bias in skin cancer cases in the USA.

The National Cancer Institute said that in 2010 more than 68,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma, and 8,700 people died from the disease.

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 exposure.

A 1986 study cited by the researchers found that Australian men were more likely to show precancerous growths on the right side of their bodies.

Even so, car windows do offer some protection, blocking most UVB rays, an intense form of UV that often causes sunburns.

“The reality is that any of the glass in the car will get out most of the bad UV,” said study co-author Paul Nghiem. He added that UVA rays, though less intense than UVB rays, penetrate glass and can still cause damage to the skin over time.

Nghiem said that for most people who drive with their side window closed, there is no reason to apply sunscreen before driving. But for drivers prone to skin cancer who spend large amounts of time driving, sunscreen may be “prudent,” the study said.

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