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Tanning, Sun Exposure Increase Risk For Early Skin Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture

Teen-agers are flocking to tanning beds in record numbers, despite repeated skin cancer warnings from physicians. Shari Croy was one of those golden-brown teen-agers. Now 46, she's battling skin cancer.

Croy used tanning beds daily as a teen and owned a bed for seven years. Now, with scars from surgeries and no hair from chemotherapy, she speaks out against tanning.

"This is what I would say to kids. It's definitely not worth it. Definitely not worth a pretty tan when it dramatically changes your life later on," says Croy.

Part of the problem is that people don't realize how powerful tanning bed bulbs really are, says Dr. Kari Kendra, an oncologist at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at The Ohio State University, who specializes in treating patients with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

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Ultraviolet or UV radiation from a tanning bed is more intense than direct sun rays on the equator, and prolonged exposure to UV rays is thought to cause melanoma, says Kendra.

The risk of developing cancer typically increases with age. However, doctors are concerned that more teens and young adults are developing melanoma, and cite overuse of tanning beds as a possible cause. With an average of 2 million uses of tanning beds every day, doctors are concerned about the potential harmful effect on teens.

"Many young people don't see the need for protection of their skin," says Kendra who is also a researcher in Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Unfortunately, what we're seeing now is younger and younger people coming in with melanoma. Before, people in their 40s were coming in. Now we're seeing 15-year-olds with melanoma. We have to be cautious with our children and young adults," says Kendra.

Not everyone has the same risk of developing melanoma, however. The American Cancer Society reports that men have a higher skin cancer rate than women.

People with fair skin, red hair or freckles also have an increased risk for developing skin cancer. Moles, family history of skin cancer and a weakened immune system also are factors to consider when assessing your risk for skin cancer.

To reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, Kendra offers these suggestions: Limit or avoid sun exposure during the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; cover skin with clothing or shade; use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.