Melanoma Skin Cancer and the Young

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Melanoma can affect people of all ages. While older adults are at higher risk of developing melanoma, the incidence of skin cancer is rapidly rising in young adults. Experts attribute this to excessive tanning and the increased use of tanning beds. It can appear initially as a mole that's changed color, shape or size.

Read on to learn more about melanoma, safety tips, and how to self-examine for melanoma.

Woman's skin being examined by a dermatologist
Igor Alecsander / Getty Images

About Melanoma

If not caught in its earliest stage, melanoma can easily spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can be found anywhere on the body, both on sun-exposed areas and shielded areas of the skin. It's caused by sunburn and influenced by genetics.

Genetic research published in the journal Cancer suggests that dark-haired people who do not sunburn easily may be at risk for potentially deadly skin cancer. The study goes on to suggest that even people who have not been severely harmed by the sun may still be at increased risk of melanoma.

Therefore, it's important to perform regular skin self-exams. Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma have improved five-year survival rates if detected and treated early.

Melanoma and the Young

Melanoma accounts for approximately  7% of cancers in adolescents aged 15-19 years. It is rare before age 15.

The differences between melanoma that begins during adolescence or young adult years and melanoma that begins later in life are not well established, and researchers are looking at features of the disease to see whether young people require different treatments or surveillance for recurrence.

Tanning Risks

Studies show there is a 75% higher risk of melanoma in individuals who started using tanning beds before the age of 35. And UV radiation from the sun is dangerous too.

Excess sun exposure accelerates skin aging, causing the outer layer to thicken and discolor in patches. Some of these patches, called actinic keratosis, can lead to cancer.

It's important to understand that just because you don't see the damage right away, doesn't mean it's not there.

Getting Enough Vitamin D Without Excess Sun Exposure

Studies suggest that Vitamin D deficiency is linked to the later development of breast, lung, and prostate cancers, and sun exposure is a good source of vitamin D. However, full sun exposure can be harmful. So it's vital to use sunscreen and avoid excess time in the sun.

There are healthier alternatives that will provide the body with the necessary daily amount of Vitamin D.

Among the things to consider:

  • Diet: Choose foods high in Vitamin D as part of your daily diet. It can be found in foods such as eggs, orange juice, milk, cereal, and some fish. In addition, food that is Vitamin D-fortified will be clearly labeled and offer shoppers a variety of options.
  • Vitamin D supplements: A variety of vitamin supplements are available without a prescription. The most beneficial aspect of taking supplements is that the body doesn't have to convert the vitamin for use, as it has to do with the sun's UV rays. Supplements are a fast and easy way to get Vitamin D into the body.
  • Sun exposure: It only takes a few minutes of sun exposure, such as the walk from the car to the grocery store, for the body to manufacture Vitamin D. There is no need to seek additional sun exposure and risk of developing skin cancer.

Safety Tips

Young people should know that one American dies of melanoma almost every hour, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

If going to go out in the sun, young people should take precautions to protect themselves from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

Among the tips meant to prevent skin cancer:

  • Use sunscreen daily no matter what your skin type or how your body reacts to the sun.
  • Choose a proper sunscreen that blocks ultraviolet (UV) A and B rays and has an SPF of at least 30.
  • Don't be fooled by a cloudy day because 80% of the sun's UV rays are still penetrating the skin.
  • Avoid sun exposure during peak hours of intensity from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Self-Exam Kit

The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) created an Almost 100% Facebook page to reach a younger demographic and provide them with resources that could potentially save their lives. The site has proved to be a forum to allow fans to exchange stories, post photos, and maintain an open dialogue about skin cancer.

A skin self-exam kit can be downloaded free from the ASDS website. The kit includes instructions on how to properly monitor and measure suspicious moles and other lesions, provides statistics and background information about skin cancer, and examples of what to look for when monitoring moles and freckles.

The ABCDEs of melanoma serve as a guideline for the evaluation of skin changes:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Color variation
  • Diameter
  • Evolving (changes to a mole's size or coloring).

In addition, the ASDS has provided consumers with a monthly journal, which includes a diagram of the body to help track mole locations and changes to the skin. If you download 12 copies of the kit's diagram, you will have one for each month of the year.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Timothy DiChiara, PhD
Timothy J. DiChiara, PhD, is a former research scientist and published writer specializing in oncology.