Studies have linked increased exposure to the sun and also indoor tanning with skin cancer. According to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not only adults, but teenagers are at risk.
“It’s like smoking. If you start at a young age, the risks are greater,” said Bountiful dermatologist, John Robison, M.D. “There is a 75 percent increase in melanoma from indoor tanning.”
Robison said part of the increase in skin cancer cases comes from the fact that about 70 percent of patrons who tan indoors are under the age of 29.
“We already know that most sun damage to the skin is caused before we even get out of the teen years,” he said. “It’s that time when the body is growing and cells are dividing. It makes teens more susceptible.”
There are varied opinions among doctors on tanning, said Robison.
“Nobody is going to recommend it for anyone under 30,” he said. “But I say no matter what the age, never go indoor tanning.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, here are some reasons why young people are at risk:
• Cancers in children often go undiagnosed because doctors don’t think to look for skin cancer in youngsters.
• The CDC reported that less than one-third of American youths practice effective sun protection.
• Less than half of all teenagers use sunscreen.
• One out of three teenagers say they tan because it looks healthy. In fact, in an American Academy of Dermatology survey, more than 80 percent of people age 25 and younger said they looked better with a tan.
• A 2002 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that using indoor tanning devices increased the risk of skin cancers — 2.5 times for squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times for basal cell carcinoma — compared with nonusers.
“I’ve noticed younger patients are developing both melanoma and basal cell carcinomas,” Robison said. “That used to not be as common in young people. I used to be surprised, but not so much now.”
Robison said he doesn’t expect his patients to always stay out of the sun.
“I never discourage my patients from going out and enjoying life,” said Robison. “Just be smart and use sunscreen. I usually recommend at least SPF 30 and then reapply it throughout the day. Wear a hat if you’re gardening or working in the sun. Just use common sense.”
He predicts that over time, the public will become more aware of the dangers of tanning.
“People coming out against smoking has evolved,” Robison said. “Slowly the public perception changes. I think that will happen along the same line for tanning. The more information we get, the public will see the dangers and move away from it.”