Five things you need to know about skin cancer. First, it’s increasing among young people.
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Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is one of the most common cancers in young adults. Here’s what you should know—and how you can protect yourself.
If you’re like most New Jerseyans, you’re grateful for the opportunity to shed layers and enjoy the sunshine. But you need to protect yourself from the sun as well, because it increases your risk of skin cancer.
This advice isn’t just for older people—far from it.
Skin cancers are rising in young adults, and they’re strongly associated with ultraviolet (UV) exposure from the sun and indoor tanning among fair-skinned people. The good news: Skin cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer.
Here are five things to know:
1. Tans are a risky trend among millennials.
Nearly 60 percent of millennials think a tan makes them look more attractive, according to a recent Blue Cross and Blue Shield The Health of America survey. And 53 percent believe a tan makes them look healthy.
But looks can be deceiving.
Any change in skin color from the sun or tanning beds is a sign of skin damage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sun’s UV rays can damage skin in as little as 15 minutes.
2. Millennials underestimate the dangers of sun and skin cancer.
Did you know that the sun’s harmful rays can penetrate clothing? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Forty-two percent of millennials have the same misconception, according to a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
The survey also found that 37 percent of millennials don’t realize that tanning causes skin cancer and that 23 percent don’t realize that sunburn increases skin cancer risk.
The reality? The more you sunburn, the greater your risk of skin cancer. The two most common forms of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell, are highly treatable if detected early. Melanoma is more serious and can be life-threatening because it’s more likely to spread if it is not detected and treated early, which leads to our next statistic about melanoma rates in young adults.
3. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young adults.
In fact, it’s the most diagnosed cancer among 25-29 year-olds in the U.S., according to the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), the largest non-profit funder of melanoma research.
The alliance also reports that the five-year survival rate for early-stage melanoma is more than 98 percent. Once it spreads throughout the body, the survival rate falls to 25 percent.
Sun exposure and indoor tanning are responsible for the vast majority of melanomas among fair-skinned people. According to the AAD, using tanning beds before age 35 can increase your melanoma risk by 59 percent.
While melanomas can appear anywhere on your body, they usually develop in places where your skin has been exposed to the sun or tanning bed.
4. It's not just the fair-skinned who get skin cancer.
While skin cancer is more common for those with fair skin, anyone can get skin cancer. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancers among people of color tend to be diagnosed at a later stage, when they can be less treatable. The Foundation cited two studies, one that found an average five-year melanoma survival rate of 67 percent in Black patients as opposed to 92 percent in white patients, and another that found late-stage melanoma diagnoses to be more common in Hispanic and Black patients compared to white patients.
What’s more, those with darker skin are more likely to develop it in areas that aren’t exposed to the sun, like the soles of the feet.
Learn more about skin cancer risk among people of color.
5. In addition to causing skin cancer, tanning = premature aging.
Okay, this one you may know but it bears repeating: Too much sun exposure results in early wrinkling and saggy skin. So, if you think a tan makes you look attractive now, just be aware of the long-term effects.
So how can you protect yourself?
- Use sunscreen. Sunscreens work by reflecting or absorbing the sun’s UV rays: UVA rays (which can prematurely age your skin) and UVB rays (which cause burning).
- Experts recommend getting water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection sunscreen. Opt for a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. (That said, SPF beyond 50 offers limited additional protection.)
- In addition to using sunscreen, wear sun-protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.
- Consider clothing designed with built-in protection, called UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) clothing. The higher the level, the better the protection.
Know the signs of skin cancer
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common skin cancer signs include skin changes like a new growth, a sore that won’t heal or a mole that changes.
- Remember your ABCDEs, an acronym used to help identify melanomas: Asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving. That means moles with asymmetrical shapes and/or irregular borders; moles/growths with varying colors; moles larger than ¼ inch, and moles that change over time. Learn more about melanoma signs and symptoms.