Dramatic Rise Seen in U.S. Melanoma Skin Cancer Cases

New research suggests incidents of melanoma skin cancer are on a dramatic rise among young adults.

According to a report from UK’s The Daily Mail, researchers at The Mayo Clinic have noted rates of dangerous melanoma skin cancer are higher than originally thought among adults aged 18 to 40. In fact, rates of skin cancer among women in that age group have quadrupled since 1970 and doubled among men.

The study found rates of skin cancer in this age group was higher than estimated by a recent study from the National Cancer Institute. For its study, the Mayo Clinic used a pool of participants from Olmstead County, Minnesota, local to one of the leading medical and research facilities in the U.S. It examined records of first-time diagnoses of melanoma among people between those ages from 1970 until 2009.

Overall, the study found, melanoma skin cancer is more likely to affect men than women over the course of a lifetime but those risk patterns are reversed among younger age groups. And though the incidents of skin cancer are on a dramatic rise, the survival rate has increased due to a more vigilant public and better treatment methods.

While there are believed to be a number of explanations to the rise in skin cancer among younger populations, the use of indoor tanning beds are believed to be the root of this epidemic. So-called “sun worshipping” has drawn many women under the sun or to tanning beds, often an attempt at “adding color” to a pale complexion in an effort to prepare for a major party, vacation, or special occasion.

Women under age 40 are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma skin cancer if they use an indoor tanning bed, the Mayo Clinic study found. The risk is similar among men in that same age group but women, the study reports, are much more likely to use a tanning bed than men.

Researchers said their study should underscore the dangers of tanning beds, particularly to the exposure effects from carcinogenic ultraviolet rays, a key factor in determining who will get skin cancer.

Tanning beds, like the sun, emit UVA and UVB rays, each carrying their own carcinogenic effects. Just a few minutes in a tanning bed can be the equivalent to sunbathing outside for hours when the sun is at its brightest.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration updated the public on the dangers of tanning beds, noting their link to “serious health risks” including increased rates of skin cancer and burns, premature aging and damage to the eyes.

The agency considers tanning beds and booths as Class I medical devices, meaning they only pose some risk of injury or threat to public health. This classification puts tanning beds under less strict regulations. The agency has been petitioned to re-classify tanning beds as more dangerous Class II or III devices to put them under stricter regulation and requiring warnings of these risks on all machines and at salons which offer them to the public.

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