Melanoma rates keep rising, especially among young women

Regulations aimed at preventing youths from using tanning beds can be difficult to enforce, a dermatologist says.

By Christine S. Moyer amednews correspondent — Posted June 20, 2012

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Although physicians often discuss with patients the potential dangers of tanning and not wearing sunscreen, incidence of melanoma continues to rise, according to recent reports.Even more concerning for health professionals is that the greatest increase seems to be occurring among adolescents and young adults, particularly in females, says a study in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.“There is no such thing as a healthy tan, because you can't get tanned without damaging your skin first,” said Jerry D. Brewer, MD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of dermatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “That damage is what makes you more likely to get skin cancer later in life.”The study shows that between 1970 and 2009, melanoma increased eightfold among women ages 18 to 39 and fourfold in men who lived in Olmstead County, Minn. Although the data are for a largely white population, the findings are significant for doctors across the country, because they mirror the national trend that melanoma is increasing, particularly among young women, Dr. Brewer said.“We anticipated that we'd find rising rates, particularly among young women, but we were surprised to see such a dramatic increase in incidence,” he said.

He added that the rising cancer rate, particularly for young women, probably is being driven by use of indoor tanning beds.

Ultraviolet radiation is a known carcinogen, but indoor tanning is particularly dangerous, because tanning beds can emit 10 to 15 times more UV radiation than the midday sun, health professionals say.

Regulations aimed at preventing youths from using indoor tanning beds, such as those that require parents to sign a consent form for teens younger than 18, have been implemented at state and local levels. But some tanning salons do not follow the rules, making the regulations difficult to enforce, said Bernard A. Cohen, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore.

The American Medical Association adopted policy in 2006 to develop model legislation prohibiting minors from indoor tanning facilities.

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