Conference News

Canada hosts world’s sun safety experts

How do you hammer home the importance of seeking shade and avoiding the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays in countries where people spend half of the year in the grips of an icy winter, longing to be in the sun? How can the built environment help increase sun safety by maximizing access to shady areas? How can the use of Big Data drive people to be more “sun smart”? What is the latest in cutting-edge research on preventing skin cancer and the harmful effects of UV radiation?

These and many other issues will be front-and-centre at the 4th International Conference on UV and Skin Cancer Prevention at Ryerson University in Toronto, May 1-4. Held in different countries around the world – the most recent event was in Melbourne, Australia in 2015 – Toronto’s International Conference on UV and Skin Cancer Prevention highlights the best in public health and community-based approaches to advance our knowledge about the importance of UV protection.

“This fourth conference really aims to disrupt current ways of thinking in the field of skin cancer prevention by sparking new ideas, proposing new intersections between disciplines, and fostering new connections and collaborations,” said Mary Buller, conference organizer and owner and President of Klein Buendel, a Golden, Colorado-based health communication research company whose investigators have been conducting skin cancer prevention research since the early 1990s.

While preventing skin cancer is the galvanizing theme of the conference, sessions cover topics ranging from urban planning policy, open-space design, public health and radiation science. The common goal is to increase public awareness – and public action – on the need for increasing shade and maximizing protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays, not just during leisure pursuits, but also in the places where people work and gather.

“The sun’s ultraviolet radiation is a workplace hazard that can cause skin cancer, heat stress and eye damage, yet these conditions are preventable with an increase in awareness,” said Dr. Thomas Tenkate, conference organizer and Director of the School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson University.

Since 1998, George Kapelos, conference co-organizer and Professor of Architectural Science at Ryerson, has been engaging with cancer prevention specialists to explore linkages between design and skin cancer prevention. As a member of the Ontario Sun Safety Working Group since its inception in 2002, he sees a strong case for architecture and design to support sun safety.

“A key for the architecture and design communities is to ensure that public spaces such as parks and playgrounds are not ‘bald’, that is without protection or shade from the sun’s harmful UV,” says Kapelos. “It is very true that thoughtful design can go a long way to protecting the public from the solar UV, especially children who may not be thinking of sun safety as they are playing.” To assist communities in designing for shade, Kapelos is organizing a pre-conference workshop that’s looking at ways municipalities can develop shade policies. This is one of many pre-conference workshops planned focusing on specific issues.

Keynote conference presenter and Chair of the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA)’s Sun Awareness Group, Dr. Jennifer Beecker said the event is critical to help continue to raise awareness among the public about the sun’s potential danger.

While Canada may not be a place thought of as a “sunny” destination, the intensity of ultra-violet radiation is highest in the southernmost parts of the country and has increased over the past few decades. These increases are happening not only during the summer months, but year-round. This has led to increasing incidence rates of melanoma, which rose 2.1% per year for men, and 2.0% for women, between 1992 to 2013.

“For many years, the CDA and other organizations have been ramping up efforts to reduce the incidence of skin cancer, which remains the most common cancer diagnosed in Canada, affecting 1 out of 7 Canadians,” says Dr. Beecker, a dermatologist in Ottawa. “We have had successes, but recent studies show that approximately one-third of Canadians aged 18 or older had a sunburn last year, so there remains work to be done.”

The conference closes on May 4 with a public session at Ryerson from noon to 1:30 p.m., presenting conference outcomes and discussing future directions in skin cancer prevention. The public is invited to this closing event.

For more information on the conference, conference-related workshops and registration, go to #UVConference2018.