Mayo Clinic Study Finds Skin Cancer in U.S. Reaching Epidemic Levels

A report in the April issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter makes a number of startling revelations with respect to the extent to which skin cancer has become a serious health problem in the U.S.

As a result of the depletion of the protective atmospheric ozone layer and the meteoric rise in popularity of tanning salons and sun worshipping in general, exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation has increased dramatically.

Two types of ultraviolet (UV) light rays are linked to skin cancers. One form, UVA, is a deep-penetrating form of radiation that impairs the skin’s immune defenses and is regarded as closely associated with deadly melanomas. The other, UVB, is a responsible for surface skin burns and the less ominous squamous and basal skin cancers.

The researchers found that 20% of Americans will develop some type of skin cancer and that five sunburns or more increase the risk of developing the disease by 200%.

Although basal and squamous cell carcinomas, which are the most common types of skin cancer, were once thought of as a disease associated with older (over 50) people, the team found that between 1976 and 2003 the number of women under 40 with basal cell carcinoma increased by 300% and those with squamous cell carcinoma by 400%.

The researchers found less of the cancers on exposed areas like the neck and head than they expected and more in areas normally covered by clothing like the torso. This supported their conclusion that a rising number of cancers may be attributable to the increased popularity of tanning beds.

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