There’s no such thing as a healthy tan, because you can’t get tanned without damaging your skin. That damage is what makes you more likely to get skin cancer as you grow older. Between 1970 and 2009 melanoma increased eight fold among women ages 18 to 39 and four fold in men.
The rising cancer rate is being driven by the use of indoor tanning beds. Ultraviolet radiation is a known carcinogen. Indoor tanning is particularly dangerous because tanning beds emit 10 to 15 times more UV radiation than the midday sun. There are regulations that aim at preventing youths from indoor tanning, such as requiring a parents’ consent for teens younger than 18.
The patient can play a primary role in early detection of melanoma. During your annual exam ask your doctor to look at your back for suspicious marks. Doctors should inform the patient of their risk factors to skin cancer.
Some of those factors include:
- Family history of melanoma
- Using tanning beds
- Having fair skin, light hair, and eyes
- Burning easily
Such conversations are particularly important for families of young children to help them establish health behavior early in life. People who plan on spending time in the sun should wear a broad spectrum water resistant sun screen with a sun protection factor of 30 or more. Also, limiting time in the sun especially during midday when UV rays are strongest and most harmful. Among women cancer is most commonly found on lower extremities. For men, melanoma is most commonly found on the back and legs.
Summer is approaching, so make sure you and your entire family are wearing sun screen. Prevention is the key!
~Dr. Samir Abdelshaheed, MD