Drivers Might Be Putting Left Arm At Risk For Skin Cancer

Posted on Sep 1, 2011 in Cancer


Driving with the window down appears to be causing Americans to develop more skin cancer on the left side of the body, new research shows.

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 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 by 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 United States.

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. “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 might be “prudent,” the study says.