Skin Cancer Rates Spike Among Young Women

  • Young women in the U.S. seem to be ignoring warnings about the health risks associated with tanning—a conclusion based on a study’s finding that young women today are eight times more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer than they were 40 years ago. 


    Reports show that more than 28 million people use tanning beds annually, with the majority of people most at-risk of developing skin cancer being under the age of 35. In an effort to better understand how to better educate young people about the dangers of tanning, scientists from the University of Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center conducted a survey among college-aged women.

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    The results, published in JAMA Dermatology, revealed that 45 of the participants had used tanning beds at least once, and 30 percent had used one at least once in the last year. The findings also showed that most of the women who had used tanning beds began doing so when they were teenagers.  Researchers said they were most surprised, however, by the finding that tanning bed users who were aware of the health risks continued their behaviors anyway.


    The study’s findings highlight the importance of developing more effective tools about the health risks of tanning targeted towards high school audiences. Here are some key facts about the link between skin cancer rates and tanning:

    • Among people between ages 18 and 29 who have melanoma skin cancer, 76 percent of the cases are attributed to tanning beds.
    • The number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking.
    • Ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices are categorized into the number one group of dangerous cancer-causing substances. Other agents in this group are plutonium, cigarettes and solar UV radiation.
    • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults between ages 25 and 29 and the second most common form of cancer for young people between ages 15 and 29.
    • After just one indoor UV tanning session, the user increases his or her risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by as much as 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent.
    • One indoor UV tanning session increases users’ risk of developing melanoma by 20 percent.

    The rates at which skin cancer among women have been rising over the past few decades are alarming. Unlike the majority of cancers, non-melanoma skin cancer statistics are not reported to cancer registries. So, the exact number of non-melanoma skin cancer incidences and deaths each year is not known for certain. However, based on experts’ estimates, the two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer—basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma—have increased over the last 30 years by 200 percent and 700 percent, respectively.


    Experts say that the increasing incidences may be due to better skin cancer detection, people getting more sun exposure and people living longer.

    Melanoma versus non-melanoma skin cancer

  • Squamous cell carcinoma shown above left; melanoma above right. Squamous cell carcinoma and other non-melanoma skin cancers originate near the surface of the skin, while melanoma starts in the skin’s deeper layers.


    Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. There are many types of skin cancer and originate in various parts of the tissues of the skin. Two broad categories of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma.



    Melanoma begins in malanocytes—the cells that produce melanin, which helps protect the deeper layers of skin from the sun. Although melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, it is also the most aggressive and causes the most skin cancer deaths. Melanoma can affect any area of the skin but can also start in the eyes, mouth and genitalia.

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    Melanoma is caused by DNA damage to skin cells, which is most often the result of UV radiation from the sun or from tanning beds. DNA damage may cause mutations, which then causes cells to multiply and form tumors. Melanoma can be fatal if the cancer is in an advanced stage and has spread to various body parts. However, if recognized and treated early, melanoma is curable. Features of melanoma are often referred to as the “ABCDEs”: asymmetry, border irregularity, color changes, evolving and diameter greater than a quarter inch.


    Non-melanoma skin cancer

    Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common form, with about 1.3 million new cases each year in the U.S. There are two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer—basal cell carcinoma (which makes up about 80 percent of non-melanoma skin cancer) and squamous cell carcinoma (which makes up about 16 percent of non-melanoma skin cancer). There are other types of non-melanoma skin cancer, but they account for less than 1 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers.


    Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma refer to the names of the cells in which the cancer originates. Both basal cells and squamous cells are found at the base of the outer layer of the skin. Non-melanoma skin cancer develops mostly on sun-exposed areas of the sun, such as the face, ear, neck, lips and the backs of hands, and it rarely spreads to other parts of the body. If found and treated early, non-melanoma skin cancer is curable.


    Guide to Buying Sunscreen

    Since the biggest risk for both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer is exposure to UV rays, the most effective way to reduce risk is to avoid exposure and/or sunburn. This includes avoiding tanning beds, seeking shade when in sunny areas and properly wearing sunscreen. With all kinds of sunscreen available in today’s market, it can be overwhelming when trying to figure out which one to buy. Here’s what you need to know:


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    According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, regular daily use of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher may reduce risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by as much as 40 percent and melanoma by 50 percent. Here are other key skin cancer facts and figures based on the most recent reports:

    • About 90 percent of all non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV rays from the sun.
    • An estimated 2.8 million people are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma annually in the U.S.
    • An estimated 700,000 people are diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma annually in the U.S.
    • One person dies of melanoma every hour.
    • A person’s risk of melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns.

    You can read the full 2014 cancer report from the American Cancer Society below (skin cancer information begins on p. 20).

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Published On: April 08, 2014