The incidence of two types of skin cancer has nearly tripled among women under age 40, a sign that tanning is still popular among the young despite warnings about the harm it can cause, researchers said on Tuesday.
Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are the two most common forms of the disease and can be removed and treated more easily than the deadlier melanoma type.
"Tan is still accepted as a sign of health and a sign of beauty and so changing that message is going to be important to accept fair skin as very healthy and beautiful," said study author Dr. Leslie Christenson of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
The study looked at some 500 skin cancer cases in surrounding Olmsted County, Minnesota, where the population's comprehensive health records are examined as part of the clinic's Rochester Epidemiology Project.
Young women, especially, still use tanning beds and lie in the sun despite health warnings about cumulative skin damage from sun rays, Christenson said in a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Among men under 40, the incidence of basal cell cancers did not increase though the rate of squamous cell cancers among men did rise, the study said. Christenson said that men may not pay as much attention to their skin as women, and might not spot the tell-tale discolored bumps as often, reports Reuters.
According to Newsday, all told, 800,000 new cases of basal carcinoma and 200,000 of squamous cell cancer are reported annually in the U.S. But the analysis found an alarming trend. In 2003, there were 32 cases of the cancers per 100,000 people under age 40 compared with 13 per 100,000 in the late 1970s. More than 56 percent of the cancers were in women.
"We used to see these cancers only in older patients," said Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a dermatologic surgeon at NYU Medical Center in Manhattan. "But we are diagnosing more of them in younger patients. And one thing we do know is the sun's ozone layer is decreasing." As a consequence, the gas no longer filters sunlight as effectively as it did.
Hale also pointed to the use of tanning salons as a major cause of basal and squamous skin cancers.
Janene Rowland, 34, who moved three weeks ago from East Northport to Manhattan, knows too well the consequences of sun damage. Her father was diagnosed with one of the cancers.
"He was constantly getting basal [carcinoma] scraped off his skin," she said.
During a medical exam last month, a flesh-toned growth on her forehead, which she thought was a bump, was diagnosed as the cancer.
"I was shocked and surprised but relieved it wasn't melanoma," Rowland said.
Doctors say there is a genetic link to basal carcinoma, which tends to occur among relatives who spend too much unprotected time in the sun.
In the study period, the incidence rate of basal cell cancer rose to 32 per 100,000 population from 13 per 100,000 among women; among men, the incidence rose to 27 from 23 per 100,000.
For squamous cell cancers, the incidence rate for women increased to 4.1 from 0.6 per 100,000; among men, the rate rose to 4.2 from 1.3 per 100,000.
Basal cells often look like little craters, with a shiny or pearly surface. Squamous cell cancers are usually reddish and scaly. Surgery is the most common remedy, though cancerous tumours can also be burned or frozen off.
Although the data, collected in a single state, cannot be generalized, Ms. Bouma of the Cancer Society said the findings probably apply to a large part of Canada.
"There's no reason we shouldn't extrapolate from this," she said. "In Canada, unfortunately, this kind of research isn't being done," reports The Globe and Mail.