People Ignore Threat of Skin Cancer
by Jennifer Wider, MD
(Washington DC, 7/8/04): More than half of all new cancers diagnosed in the
United States this year will be skin cancer. Most people get 80 percent of their
lifetime sun exposure by the age of 18. Unfortunately, young people are not
getting the message about the health risks of exposure to ultra violet rays.
Only one in three Americans between the ages of 12 and 18 uses sunscreen, according
to a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology. The study
also revealed that 83 percent of teens have been sunburned at least once in
the last year and roughly one-third have been sunburned on three or more occasions.
Sun exposure is not the only way for people to be exposed to damaging UV light.
The study found that 26 percent of people under the age of 25 use tanning beds
and most of those are women.
"UVB rays are what cause sunburns. UVA generally causes tanning," said David
Hecker, M.D., a practicing dermatologist in Palm Springs, Fla., and diplomat
of the American Board of Dermatology. "Now, new evidence has proven that UVA,
which is what tanning booths mainly have and is what comes through windows,
can contribute to skin cancer as well."
Skin cancer is on the rise in the United States. The diagnosis of all types
of skin cancer has increased and melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer
- has become the most common cancer among young adults aged 25-29, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The reasons for the increase are under investigation, but the medical community
has many theories.
"It is possible that the increased use of tanning beds in this country, the
loss of the ozone layer, earlier diagnosis, the aging of the population as a
whole, and improper use of sunscreen - which gives people a false sense of security
to lie out in the sun - are all contributing factors to the increased incidence,"
There are three major types of skin cancer. Bad sunburns which include blistering
increase a person's risk of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
Long-term exposure to the sun increases the risk of all types of skin cancer
including the less serious types: basal-cell and squamous-cell carcinoma.
Melanoma accounts for six out of every seven skin cancer deaths. Early diagnosis
and treatment are vital because if left untreated, melanoma can spread to other
areas of the body. It tends to run in families and can arise in pre-existing
moles or develop on its own.
Basal-cell carcinoma is the most common and rarely metastasizes, or spread
to other parts of the body. If left untreated it can invade surrounding tissues
and cause disfigurement. Squamous-cell carcinoma is the second most common type
of skin cancer. It can metastasize or invade the surrounding tissues, if not
People can cut their risk of skin cancer by taking the necessary precautions.
The American Academy of Dermatology has several recommendations: avoid sun exposure
between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun's rays are strongest; apply sunscreen
with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and reapply every two hours;
wear protective clothing and a hat in the sun; and seek shade as much as possible.
The safety of tanning salons is not well-established and continuous use will
likely raise a person's risk of skin cancer. "The American Academy of Dermatology
is trying to push for laws regulating the use of tanning salons by children
under 18," Hecker said. Presently, the use of tanning beds is poorly regulated.
In the meantime, parents should exert their influence on their children and
not allow tanning bed use in those under 18.
The Society for Women's
Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization
whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded
in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate
inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need
for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates
increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex
differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease,
and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica
Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its
Board of Directors.
Created: 7/8/2004  - Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Reviewed: 7/14/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.