Skin cancer on rise in U.S.

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Decades ago, advertisements for suntan lotions used to say their products would help give users “a healthy tan.” Today, the term “healthy tan” sounds like an oxymoron.

Cases of deadly melanoma have increased by 200 percent since 1973, according to a recent report by acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak.

During a four-decade period when effective sunblocks have been developed and marketed in America, it should have been a time when skin cancers have declined. Instead, it has been just the opposite.

More than 9,000 people every year have been dying from melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. The Melanoma Research Foundation estimates about 77,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year, and nearly 10,000 of them will die from it.

The reason for most of the cancer cases can be summed up in a single word: Vanity.

Many people like the look of a suntan and spend a lot of time, effort and money to develop tans. And they are putting their health at risk while they are doing it.

Like smokers, tanners know what they are doing can lead to health risks later in life, but they are willing to accept the risks.

Lushniak, who is a dermatologist, told the Washington Post in an interview he thinks indoor tanning is a major part of the problem and is vehemently coming out against young people using tanning booths.

“Ultraviolet radiation is a known carcinogen, period,” he told the Post. “This is a needless exposure to ultraviolet radiation. According to research … we’re looking at about 400,000 cases of skin cancer, about 6,000 of them melanomas, that are estimated to be related to indoor tanning in the United States each year.”

He’s talking about policies that restrict indoor tanning, such as encouraging colleges and universities to stop allowing tanning beds on campus.

Tanning-bed use before the age of 30 increases the risk of melanoma by 75 percent, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Another risk factor is suffering sunburns at a young age. One blistering sunburn at a young age doubles a person’s chances for melanoma later in life.

Other risk factors include fair skin, light hair color, light eye color, a family history of melanoma, a high number of moles, a weakened immune system and age.

Melanoma is the second-most common cancer in teens and young adults, the leading cause of cancer death in women 25 to 30 years old and the second leading cause of cancer death in women 30 to 35 years old.

Generations ago, the fashion of skin beauty for fair-skinned women was to be as light as possible. If the “milky-white skin” look returned to fashion, fair-skinned people would be safer.

For now, it would be wise to consider Lushniak’s words about tanning: “Tan skin is damaged skin.”

At a time when incidences of most cancers are declining, melanoma is increasing. We would prefer starting with an education campaign to warn those at risk than the imposition of government regulations.

— Lubbock Avalanche-Journal


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