Although the rate of some cancers has declined in recent years, melanoma — the most serious form of skin cancer — is not among them. The situation is more troubling with the news of a new study that fewer teenagers are using sunscreen than they used to.
Because sun damage is cumulative — that is, like X-rays and other forms of radiation, the more exposure you have and the longer you have it, the greater the risk of developing cancer — the news is particularly unsettling. The earlier in life you develop the habit of reducing sun exposure, and of using sunscreen when you are outside, the greater your chances of minimizing the risk.
The study about teens was part of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, an initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It reviewed use of sunscreen and indoor tanning devices among high-school students across the U.S. between 2001 and 2011. Even though teens generally practice fewer skin-protection habits than adults, this study, as reported on AboutLawsuits.com, showed a decline sunscreen use and an increase in indoor tanning use even from previous reviews.
The number of teens who use sunscreen dropped by more than 1 in 10 from 2009 to 2011. The lowest rate of sunscreen use was in 2005, when only 5 in 100 teens applied it. The rate teens used indoor tanning devices varied less in that period, from 15 in 100 in 2009 to 13 in 100 in 2011, but it still declined.
Although as adults, more women than men wear sunscreen, the CDC study showed that girls used indoor tanning devices more than boys. In 2009, 1 in 4 girls tanned indoor regularly compared with 6 in 100 boys. And their use of tanning beds increased as they got older. Sunscreen use was fairly consistent across all grade levels.
A few years ago, we blogged about the dangers of kids and tanning beds, “Youth and Tanning Beds: Do Not Mix,” but it appears American youth — and their parents — aren’t getting the message.
According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is diagnosed in about 69,000 Americans each year, and about 8,650 die from it. The CDC says that rates of melanoma rose 1.6% among men and 1.4% among women every year from 2001 to 2010.
Other forms of skin cancer are less lethal than melanoma, but are still problematic and require treatment. AboutLawsuits refers to a study from a few months ago that showed that teenagers who use tanning beds are more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, one of those forms, and that they were more likely to be diagnosed at a much earlier age.
However you get harmful radiation, and wherever it shows up on your body, it’s not good. And, often, it’s preventable. Adults should make sure they minimize exposure to the sun, and should spurn the use of tanning beds, and they should make sure their kids do, too. It’s an investment in future health.