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On your first trip to the bathrooms at the new Las Vegas Ballpark, you may have noticed a wall fixture dispensing something other than the usual hand soap, sanitizer, or paper towels: sunscreen. The ballpark is one of 64 Southern Nevada locations where Comprehensive Cancer Centers has had the free dispensers installed.

“I would much rather people put sunscreen on now than get skin cancer later,” says Wolfram Samlowski, an oncologist specializing in melanoma at Comprehensive Cancer Centers. “There are more than 200 types of cancer, and this is one you can actually prevent, so it makes a whole lot of sense.”

In case you hadn’t heard, skin cancer is a problem, and it’s getting worse. According to CDC data, new skin melanomas were reported at an average rate of 22 out of every 100,000 Americans in 2016. The rate in Nevada was lower, at 18 out of 100,000. All told, more than 96,000 new melanomas are expected be diagnosed in the U.S. this year — 850 of those in Nevada, compared with around 800 last year. 

The free sunscreen dispensers are part of Comprehensive Cancer Centers’ solution to the problem. The first was installed at Wet’n’Wild Las Vegas in 2012. Clark County Parks and Recreation, the oncology center’s largest partner, has put 42 dispensers in rec centers, sports facilities, and aquatic centers through the valley. Downtown Summerlin, the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, Cowabunga Bay, the Las Vegas Lights, UNLV Rebel Football, and Candence Master Planned Community are other partners. A bill passed in the recent Legislature, SB159, has paved the way to installing them on public school property.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people forget their sunscreen,” says Jon Bilstein, Comprehensive Cancer Center’s executive director. “People are going out to have fun; they’re not thinking about that. And they’re out there for several hours, so even if they put it on before they leave home, they need to reapply.”

Bilstein wasn’t aware of any studies demonstrating the effectiveness of free sunscreen distribution in skin cancer prevention, but he said he knows the public is using them because the center regularly gets requests for refills.

As for a January Outside magazine article about a controversial study claiming that unprotected sun exposure is worth the risk because of its necessity in Vitamin D production, Samlowski simply said it was of “unknown significance at present” and, anyway, “Sunburns are still more of a health risk!”

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