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Skin cancer is increasing among millennials. Here are 6 things you need to know.



Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is one of the most common cancers in young adults. Learn how you can protect yourself.

Sun time is fun time, especially after a too-long New Jersey winter.

But everyone – young and old – needs to protect themselves from the damaging effects of sun, as too much sun increases the risk of skin cancer.

While melanoma and other forms of skin cancer are more likely to occur in older adults, younger people are often affected too. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30, especially women; and while treatable, advanced melanoma can be deadly.

Skin cancers are 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 six facts to be aware of before you spend too much time in the sun or on the tanning bed:

1. Millennials underestimate the dangers of sun and skin cancer.

Many millennials aren’t aware of this fact: The sun’s harmful rays can penetrate right through your clothing. Almost half (42 percent) of millennials don’t know that clothing doesn’t necessarily keep sun’s damaging rays away, according to a survey from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

The survey also found that 37 percent of millennials don’t know that tanning causes skin cancer and 23 percent are unaware that that sunburn increases skin cancer risk.

The more you sunburn, the greater your risk of skin cancer. But while some forms of skin cancer 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 identified and aggressively treated early.

2. Melanoma is rising in young adults.

Many people are surprised to learn that melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is the most diagnosed cancer among 25-29 year-olds in the U.S., according to the non-profit Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA).

The good news, according to the MRA report, is that the five-year survival rate for early-stage melanoma is more than 98 percent. But if it spreads throughout the body, the five-year survival rate drops precipitously, down to just 25 percent.

Fair-skin people in particular are at higher risk of melanoma, and sun exposure and indoor tanning are the biggest culprits. According to the AAD, individuals under the age of 35 who use tanning beds increase their risk of melanoma by a whopping 59 percent.

While melanomas can appear anywhere on the body, they usually develop in places where your skin has been directly exposed to the sun or tanning bed. So, it makes sense to cover up when you can.

3. People of all colors get skin cancer.

While skin cancer is more common for those with fair skin, anyone can get skin cancer. 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. One of its studies found that the five-year melanoma survival rate for Black patients is just 67 percent, versus 92 percent in white patients. Further, another study revealed that late-stage melanoma was diagnosed more commonly in Hispanic and Black patients compared to white patients; and those with darker skin are more likely to develop skin cancer in areas that aren’t typically exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet.

Click here to learn more about skin cancer risk among people of color.

4. Tans are trendy – and risky -- among millennials.

Nearly 60 percent of millennials think a tan makes them look more attractive, and 53 percent believe a tan makes them look more healthy, according to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association survey.

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 of exposure.

5. Tanning leads to premature aging.

Too much sun exposure results in early wrinkling and saggy skin. So while you may think a tan makes you look attractive now, be aware that the long-term effects may not be as satisfying.

6. Stay safe … but don’t forget about vitamin D.

If you’re taking steps to stay out of direct sunlight, that’s good. But you may also be inadvertently reducing your levels of vitamin D, some of which is produced by exposure to sunlight. So make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D in other ways, like through foods and vitamin supplements. This is especially important for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), who are at higher risk of complications if their vitamin D levels are low.

The best ways to stay safe

The top tip for anyone spending time outdoors: Use sunscreens. They work by reflecting or absorbing the sun’s UV rays (which can prematurely age your skin) and UVB rays (which cause burning).

Experts recommend using water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Be aware that SPF beyond 50 doesn’t offer much additional protection. Also, wear sun-protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.

Consider items designed with built-in protection, called UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing. The higher the UPF level, the better the protection.

Know your ABCDEs

According to the CDC, the most common signs of skin cancer are changes in the skin, like a new growth, a sore that won’t heal or a mole that changes in size of color.

Remember your ABCDEs, an acronym used to help identify melanomas: Asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving. That means moles of growths with asymmetrical shapes and/or irregular borders; varying colors; larger than ¼ inch; and that change over time all need to be checked out by a medical professional. Learn more here about melanoma signs and symptoms.

Horizon Health News is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.