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Cancer Health Center

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Skin Cancers Increasing in Young Adults

Experts Say Sunbathing, Tanning Beds May Explain Rise

Skin Cancer Most Common After 50 continued...

Christenson says the increased rates in these tumors among young people points to an overall rise in skin cancers in the near future.

"50% of people who have one (nonmelanoma skin lesion) will have a second one within two to three years, and 75% of people who have two will have a third," she says.

American Cancer Society skin cancer spokesman Martin A Weinstock, MD, PhD, says the fact that the rise was so much more apparent in women than in men seems to implicate intentional tanning, and especially tanning bed use.

It is clear that women use tanning beds much more often than men do. A recent study showed that girls in their late teens were almost seven times as likely as boys to report tanning with the aid of a tanning bed.

"We can't tell from this report that this is the cause, but it is certainly something that needs further study," Weinstock tells WebMD.

Tanning Beds to Blame?

But not everyone agrees that tanning beds deserve some blame.

"To jump to this conclusion is just an unfair analysis of the data," Indoor Tanning Association Executive Director John Overstreet tells WebMD. "It is a disservice to our industry and to people who depend on science to make decisions about their lives."

Overstreet added that it is surprising that skin cancers are increasing despite aggressive public health campaigns warning against sun exposure.

"If you accept the fact that sunscreen and an awareness about the dangers of overexposure are now part of everybody's life, then this suggests that other factors might be involved," he says.

Protecting Yourself From the Sun

Though most people now use sunscreen when sunbathing, Weinstock says it is rarely used in the most effective manner. That means:

  • Applying a 30 SPF or higher sunscreen 20 minutes before exposure.
  • Reapplying 20 minutes after exposure begins when the sun's rays are intense.
  • And reapplying periodically after that, depending on the type of sunscreen you use and how active you are.

"It is almost impossible to figure out how often to reapply sunscreen by looking at most (sunscreen) labels," he says. "That makes it very difficult for people who are trying to do the right thing, let alone those who aren't paying much attention."

The American Cancer Society has also borrowed the slogan "Slip, Slop, and Slap" from an Australian skin cancer awareness campaign. The campaign urges people to slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat before sunbathing, Weinstock explains.

"It is the best way to protect yourself when you are out in the sun," he says.

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