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Driving and Cancer

Why Driving May Increase Your Risk of Developing Skin Cancer

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Updated May 25, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you drive on a regular basis, you may be putting yourself at risk of developing skin cancer. Whether you hang your left arm out of the window or rest it on the door with the window closed as you make your daily commute, the left side of your body is being exposed to harmful UVA rays, especially your face and arm. Window glass may protect you from UVB rays, which cause sunburn, but it does not block UVA rays, which play a role in the development of skin cancer.

A study published in the May 2010 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology shows that drivers are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer lesions on the left side of their bodies more often than their right. In the study, researchers examined the medical records of 1,047 people with skin cancer. They found that 52.6 percent people had skin cancer on the left side of their bodies as opposed to 47.4 percent on the right. Melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, occurred much more frequently on the left side -- 74 percent compared to 26 percent on the right. Of course, more research needs to be conducted, but the basic principles remain: UV exposure increases the likelihood that we will develop skin cancer. Harmful UVA rays appear to be able to penetrate through windows, leaving our skin vulnerable. Meanwhile, the glass tends to block UVB rays, which cause sunburn. So even though you're not getting burned through the window, you're still getting dangerous sun exposure.

Reduce Your Risk of Developing Skin Cancer While Driving

The first rule of skin cancer prevention is to wear sunscreen. Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before leaving the house or going outdoors. Don't forget to reapply throughout the day as needed. Be sure to read the sunscreen manufacturer's instructions for specific advice, as products differ.

You can also try to reduce the amount you drive, although this isn't feasible for some people. Professional drivers need to be especially careful about skin cancer prevention as their exposure to UV rays is higher than the average driver.

Window tints may be an option for some, depending on state law and product availability. There are window-tinting films that block 99 percent of UV rays. See a local window-tinting company for specific product information. Some states do not allow driver-side windows to be tinted, so be sure to inquire about your state's regulations.

Don't let cloudy weather fool you! UV rays penetrate the clouds, exposing you to harmful effects of sun exposure. This especially applies to those who drive long hours daily, such as personal drivers and truck drivers.

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