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Teen skin cancer rates up: Are you at risk?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Teens and young adults are increasingly diagnosed with skin cancer.

Johns Hopkins experts warn that more teens and young adults are getting skin cancer, making it important to take steps to identify who’s at risk and takes steps toward prevention.

A recent finding from Mayo Clinic showed melanoma has increased six-fold among 18-to-39-year-olds over the last 40 years. In the last ten years, more teens and young adults are being diagnosed with preventable skin cancers.

According to Bernard Cohen, M.D., director of pediatric dermatology at Hopkins Children’s, it’s critical to protect young children from sunburn to reduce their risk of skin cancer later in life.

“A burn at age 25 is not as damaging as a burn at the tender age of 4 so we have a critical window in childhood to minimize life-time risk,” Cohen said in a press release.

Teens and young adults should also be wary of unprotected UV radiation especially those between age 12 and 18 who are fond of indoor tanning beds.

How to prevent skin cancer

Parents and caregivers should ensure infants and children use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays from the sun.

Limit activities to morning and later afternoon because the sun is weaker during those times.

Use an SPF sunscreen that has a factor of 30 or higher year-round and apply it to all areas that are exposed. A wide brimmed hat and long sleeves is also advised.

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Teens and young adults are at constant risk for skin cancer because of tanning bed use that persists, despite warnings. Cohen reminds teens that tanning beds deliver more radiation than the sun meaning the risk for melanoma that can be deadly, as well as other types of skin cancers, is high. Tanning beds are classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a carcinogen (cancer causing).

One concern, said Cohen, is that laws requiring parental consent for minors who want to use tanning salons are not widely enforced; nor are laws that ban tanning beds altogether.

The Hopkins experts say clinicians should take advantage of annual well-child visits to discuss the dangers of tanning beds and unprotected sun exposure with parents and teens and teach the “ABCD’s” of skin cancer detection - asymmetrical shape, border irregularities, color changes and diameter growth.

Compared to men, women have experienced an 8-fold increase in skin cancers, which researchers say is because young women are more prone to tan than are men.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reminds consumers there is no risk of melanoma from using sunscreen and that too much sun actually robs the body of vitamin D and lowers immunity while boosting disease risk. They also believe sunscreens are safe, despite recent criticisms that some ingredients such as oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate can cause and promote cancer, respectively.

If you think you are at risk for skin cancer from exposure to the sun as a child or frequent use of tanning beds, speak with your doctor and learn the signs and symptoms. Wear SPF skin protection year round and make sure you protect all areas of the body that are exposed during outdoor activities. Sunscreens aren’t perfect, so seek shade whenever possible.

Certain skin types are more prone to sun damage and skin cancer. You can take a quiz at the Skin Cancer Foundation website to find your personal genetic risk for skin cancer.

Johns Hopkins
May 4, 2012

The Skin Cancer Foundation

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