More and more studies are finding that, as a result of society’s preference for tan skin, the incidence of basal cell and squamous cell cancer in younger people is up significantly and has almost tripled among women under 40.
This is a strong indication that young people are disregarding warnings about skin cancer and tanning anyway.
The most recent study, published in a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, considered approximately 500 skin cancer cases in Olmsted County, Minnesota, where the population’s comprehensive health records are examined as part of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota’s Epidemiology Project.
Researchers found that the rate of basal cell and squamous cell cancers rose to 32 per 100,000 women under 40 in 2003 from the earlier level of 13 per 100,000 in the late 1970s. These cancers are the two most common forms and can be removed and treated more easily than the deadlier melanoma type.
Basal cell cancer usually appears as a pink bump on the skin, which can be superficial or bleed and does not go away. Squamous cell cancer can also look very pink, but it is usually scaly and appears as a rough, raised bump.
The author of the study, Dr. Leslie Christenson of the Mayo Clinic, said that the results show women are still lying in the sun and in tanning beds to achieve a “healthy” glow. "Tan is still accepted as a sign of health and a sign of beauty and so changing that message is going to be important to accept fair skin as very healthy and beautiful” she said.
Findings suggest women may be somewhat more concerned with meeting the current beauty standards than men. For men under 40, the incidence of basal cell cancers did not increase, although though the rate of squamous cell cancers among men did rise. However, Christenson said, this could also be because men may not pay as much attention to their skin as women, and might not spot abnormalities as often.
Overall, in the , skin cancer is currently the most common form of cancer with 800,000 new cases of basal cell and 200,000 cases of squamous cell cancers diagnosed in 2000. Incidents of skin cancer have also increased for those over 50.
As we recently reported in an article involving a related study, many young Americans continue to tan themselves despite repeated warnings against the dangers of excessive sun exposure.
Although the tan has become a sign of the leisure class and part of the ritual-like sunburns that are now taken for granted each summer and on Spring-break, it actually represents a severe form of skin damage which increases the chance of developing the deadly skin cancer known as melanoma.
Merely reducing the amount of sun exposure, however, can significantly reduce the risk of this deadliest of skin cancers. Protection from the sun would also reduce the risk of the most frequent forms of skin cancer, basal cell, and squamous cell carcinomas which afflict more than 1 million Americans each year.
While most Americans are aware of the dangers, the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports that, in a national survey, 31.7% of Americans had been sunburned during the past year.
White men were found most likely to have been burned, with 40% showing three or more sunburns during this period. Black men and women had the lowest incidences.
The recent study also confirmed a correlation between age and sunburns, with 60% of young adults reporting a burn in the last year.
Other current findings, which show that even larger numbers of children from 12 to 18 got sunburns, support this conclusion. In contrast, only 7% of adults 65 and over had been burned.
The researchers not only considered age, but geographic location and economics, finding that both impacted sun exposure. Higher rates of education, income, and larger families were associated with an increase in the number of sunburns, suggesting that tanning and burning may be related to wealth and greater leisure time spent outdoors.
Average sunburn rates were also found to vary according to state, with the Midwest, including Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Wyoming and Wisconsin reporting higher numbers. Fewer burns occurred in Puerto Rico, Florida, Arizona, New York, and Tennessee. States with increased sunburn rates were shown to have more deaths from melanoma.
The most disturbing finding, according to the researchers, is that the study “confirms reports that extensive unprotected sun exposure is occurring among young adults.” The well-documented negative affects of this trend, will not be felt for many years as result of the long latency period between sun damage and the appearance of skin cancer.