Professional drivers, children more at risk
Various studies over a number of years point at the hidden dangers to vehicle occupants being exposed to the UV rays of the sun over long periods, and some cancer bodies and a dermatologist from Malta considers tinted windows a good way to prevent skin cancer.
Although the studies concern skin cancer in adults, cancer bodies warn that most UV-related skin damage is done by the time children turn 18. Therefore, parents transporting children and the employers of drivers should take special note of the results.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in South Africa, with about 20 000 cases and a resultant 700 deaths annually, says the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). Also, after Australia, South Africa is the country with the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. Yet it seems as if research on the impact of UV rays on vehicle occupants lag behind. No evidence of such research could be found on the Internet.
The medical world was shocked recently when Dr. Jennifer Gordon of the Northwestern University in Chicago published a picture in the New England Journal of Medicine of 66-year-old truck driver Bill McElligot showing the damage of sun exposure over 28 years of driving a milk delivery truck.
The left side, which is closest to the window, looks about 20 years older than the right side. Gordon says it is photo-aging from UVA rays streaming through the glass.
WorkCover Authority of New South Wales (Australia), a government agency promoting productive, healthy and safe workplaces, mentions the case of a truck driver who sued Sydney Electricity in relation to his skin cancer.
He claimed that his work caused or aggravated the extent of his skin cancer. He sued for his resulting loss of hearing, sight in both eyes, efficient use of his right leg, speech and smell, and for severe facial disfiguration. He died before the case was decided.
Already in 2004 a study by Dr. Scott Fosko, chair of the department of dermatology at the University of Saint Louis in the United States, reviewing the cases of 1 047 patients who came to the university’s dermatology department, found that long hours behind the steering wheel may increase the risk of skin cancer.
The study was published in the December 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Overall, about 54% of cases of skin cancers on the head and neck occurred on the left side. Melanomas, the most deadly form of skin cancer, occurred on the left side 75 percent of the time.
Although the scientists did not study the causes they drew attention to the exposure to UV rays through car windows as US cars are left-hand driven. While car windows protect against UVB rays, they do not protect against the more dangerous UVA rays.
Other than the use of sunblock, Fosko advised that windows with tinted glass and UV filters also help reduce the amount of UV rays that hit your skin.
A study published a year later by researchers of the University of Washington in Seattle in the same magazine looked at nearly 85 000 cases of skin cancer, and concluded more cases involved the left arm and left side of the face.
Study author Dr. Paul Nghiem said the pattern is exactly what you would expect from driving a car and the UV exposure you would get from that. He advised motorists to drive with their windows rolled up and to wear long sleeves to prevent skin cancer.
Co-author Kelly Paulson told USA Today that truckers would certainly be a group who want to be aware of UV exposure while driving. “Passengers in a vehicle for long periods of time should also be aware of sun exposure.”
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. UV rays, not the temperature do the damage.
The Cancer Council Australia (the country with the highest incidence of skin cancer) says evidence suggests that childhood sun exposure contributes significantly to the lifetime risk of skin cancer, and recommends keeping babies out of the sun as much as possible for the first twelve months.
The Skin Cancer Foundation in the United States believes the rise in melanoma is due to sun exposure and sun burns in childhood, increased sun exposure over time and the use of tanning beds. It quotes studies revealing that almost 80% of sun damage is done by the time a child reaches 18 years of age.
Children and babies need to be protected from the sun during car trips, says the Cancer Society of New Zealand, also a country with a high incidence of skin cancer. Using window shades or tinting for extra protection is recommended.
A Maltese doctor has called for the use of tinted car windows to help prevent skin cancer. The Malta Independent Online reports that Dr. Lawrence Scerri of the dermatology department at the Boffa hospital said car windows filter only UVB rays. A degree of tint can filter an amount of UVA as well.
This echoes a recommendation of the United States Skin Cancer Foundation that windows of vehicles should be treated with window film that can screen almost 100% of UVA and UVB rays without impairing visibility.
Richard Burton of LLumar Films SA, supplier of solar window film to the South African market, says LLumar film screens 99% of dangerous UV rays, protecting not only the occupants against possible skin cancer, but the interior of the vehicle against fading, aging and cracking as well.
“The solar window film has the added benefit of reducing heat as well, creating a cooler, more comfortable environment for the occupants.”
PG Glass service centres fit LLumar window film. Visit www.pgglass.co.za or call 0860 03 03 03 twenty four hours a day, seven days a week to find the centre closest to you.