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July 25, 2019

Summer AAD News: Dramatic Spike in Female Skin Cancer Linked to Tanning

Rates of melanoma increased 800 percent among women ages 18-39 between 1970 and 2009.

Skin cancer in women is on the rise, and indoor tanning may be to blame, according to new research presented at the 2019 American Academy of Dermatology Summer Meeting in New York City.

Between 1970 and 2009, rates of melanoma increased 800 percent among women ages 18-39, making it the second most common cancer in young women. During a similar timeframe, basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma rates have also sharply increased by 145 percent and 263 percent, respectively, the study showed.

“Because there’s a delay between UV exposure and when skin cancer appears, most women don’t think it will happen to them,” says M. Laurin Council, MD, FAAD, FACMS, an associate professor of dermatology at Washington University in St. Louis, in a news release. “This data reveals the disproportionate rise in the number of skin cancers in women and the need for further education regarding UV exposure.”

Continued use of indoor tanning devices by Caucasian girls and young women is of particular focus, as researchers estimate that it may cause more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year.   Even one indoor tanning session can increase a user’s lifetime risk of developing melanoma by 20 percent, squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent. The risk increases for younger users; indoor tanning before age 35 can increase one’s risk of melanoma by 59 percent. This risk increases with each use.

“It’s important that young people understand the potential impact of the habits they form when they are younger,” says Dr. Council. “There are serious, long-term consequences to activities such as sunbathing and using indoor tanning devices.”

Dr. Council recommends that parents talk with their children about limiting UV exposure, which is the easiest way to prevent skin cancer. This means practicing sun-safety habits, such as seeking shade, especially when the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; wearing protective clothing, including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses; and regularly applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Parents should also discourage the use of indoor tanning devices.

“Everyone should be happy with the skin they were born with and protect it,” says Dr. Council. “Some skin cancers are treatable with surgery, but others are more advanced and may be deadly. It’s important that we modify risky behaviors such as UV exposure to prevent the occurrence of skin cancer.”

Research has linked indoor tanning to malignant melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, has classified ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds as a Class 1 carcinogen, the same category as tobacco smoke and asbestos.  Contrary to what the tanning industry says, tanning beds and devices are not healthy and do NOT promote Vitamin D development.