Skin Cancer Epedimic in U.S.

Posted on April 20, 2006

Reuters reports on a new warning from the American Academy of Dermatology that a skin cancer epedimic is now underway in the U.S. More Americans and more younger Americans are being diagnosed with skin cancer.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer, and a person's risk of the disease doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns, according to a report in the April issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas, the most common and treatable types of skin cancers, had long been considered a problem only for people over 50, according to the report. But Mayo Clinic researchers found that the percentage of women under 40 with the more common type, basal cell, tripled between 1976 and 2003, while the rate of squamous cell cancers increased four-fold.

In the same study, the researchers found that just 60% of the cancers they identified occurred on skin frequently exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck, rather than the normal 90%. Most of the remaining cancers were seen on the torso. The researchers suspect this may be due to more widespread use of tanning beds.

Two types of ultraviolet (UV) light are implicated in skin cancers, the article explains. UVA, which penetrates deeper into the skin and impairs its immune defenses, is more responsible for melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer. UVB exposure causes sunburn, as well as squamous and basal cell skin cancers.

People are aware of the risks and another study provided an interesting addiction theory about why people continue to sun tan and use tanning beds despite the obvious cancer risk and aging caused by sun tanning. The article provided the following suggestions reprinted from an April 2006 Mayo Health Clinic newsletter.

  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you are going to be outside, even if the weather is cloudy or hazy.
  • Spend as little time as possible in the direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use about an ounce of sunscreen -- roughly a shot glass full -- and reapply it every two hours.
  • Always wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat, and wear clothing made from tightly woven fabric to protect your skin.