Melanoma Skin Cancer and the Young

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Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can affect people of all ages from the young to the elderly and everyone in between. 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.

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 one's 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 equally positive five-year survival rates if detected and treated early.

Tanning Risks

There is a misconception among some that tanning beds are safer than tanning under the sun. The public needs to be aware of the dangers of UV radiation and understand that just because you don't see the damage right away, doesn't mean it's not there.

In fact, studies show there is a 75% higher risk of melanoma in individuals who started using tanning beds before the age of 35. In addition, tanning beds accelerate aging of the skin, causing the outer layer to thicken and discolor in patches. Some of these patches, called actinic keratosis, can lead to cancer.

Studies suggest that Vitamin D deficiency is linked to the later development of breast, lung, and prostate cancers, and recommend the best source of Vitamin D is 10 to 15 minutes of full sun exposure. Unfortunately, that recommendation may cause more harm than good.

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 a 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 developing skin cancer.

Safety Tips

The dangers of tanning and unsafe sun exposure are beyond argument. 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 Almost 100% page as well as 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 for the ABCDEs of melanoma:

  • 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 them 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.

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5 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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