Study: Skin Cancer in Young Adults on the Rise

Common skin cancers have more than tripled among young adults over the past decade. A study shows that the rising rates are due to increased exposure to ultraviolet light and ozone depletion in the atmosphere.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Researchers are finding a worrisome increase in skin cancer among younger adults. That's despite public health warnings about the danger of exposure to the sun. NPR's Patricia Neighmond reports on a study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

PATRICIA NEIGHMOND reporting:

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, looked at incidents of the two cancers in a nearby county over a 27-year period comparing rates in the late '70s to rates in 2000, 2003. The two cancers were not melanoma. There were the more common and easily treated types of skin cancer known as basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Dermatologic surgeon Leslie Christianson.

Dr. LESLIE CHRISTIANSON (Dermatologic Surgeon): The incidents of basal cell carcinoma in women has increased almost three times during that time frame. The incidents of basal cell has not increased in men.

NEIGHMOND: Although there weren't a large number of cases overall, the rates of squamous cell skin cancer also increased among both men and women during the same time period.

Dr. JAMES SPENCER (Dermatologist): It confirms what I've been observing.

NEIGHMOND: Dermatologist James Spencer practices in St. Petersburg, Florida. He represents the American Academy of Dermatology.

Dr. SPENCER: When I started my career, which was in 1992, skin cancer was something that we saw in older people, frankly, and it was very unusual to see someone in their 30s or 20s with skin cancer. Now I feel that it's routine. I had a young woman 21 years old with a large skin cancer near her eye. Ten years ago, that would have been extraordinary, and as I said, now we see it fairly often.

NEIGHMOND: And unlike melanoma, says Spencer, the cause of these cancers is clear.

Dr. SPENCER: Ultraviolet light, period, end of discussion.

NEIGHMOND: Even so, Spencer says, surveys of young people indicate a disregard for this knowledge. He points to recent research in pediatric journals.

Mr. SPENCER: Surveying thousands of young people and asking some real simple questions. Young people meaning teen-agers, `Do you wear sunscreen when you go out on a sunny day?' And the answer is only one-third of them do. Two-thirds do not. `Do you wear a hat? Do you wear sunglasses to protect your eyes?' `No.' The majority? No, they don't. `Do you go to indoor tanning salons?' By the time they're college age, about 50 percent have been.

NEIGHMOND: Studies show UV rays from indoor tanning salons are just as dangerous as exposure to the sun, and because the bulbs can be very high-intensity, Spencer says a lot of teens and young adults get the equivalent of many hours of sunlight in just 20 minutes. Mayo Clinic researchers say the findings of this study should motivate more people to take exposure to the sun seriously and as a result take precautions, things you've heard before: sunscreen, a hat and no tanning salons. Researcher Leslie Christianson says both types of skin cancer look like small bumps or scaly patches which are reddish or pink and bleed easily. While these skin cancers are rarely fatal, they're still serious, she says, and require invasive treatment.

Dr. CHRISTIANSON: And they are cancers that will continue to grow, and if you do not have it removed, it will just continue to grow and grow and destroy the skin that it's living in till you have this big open wound and this big sore.

NEIGHMOND: And once individuals get non-melanoma skin cancer, more than half get it again within a few years, and after two incidents, 75 percent of patients get it a third time. Patricia Neighmond, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.