Skin cancer from sun, tanning beds claims more — and younger — victims each year

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/17/05

Excepts from the article:

The sun is not good for anyone who spends a great deal of time outdoors, but some people are more vulnerable to its damaging rays than others. Highest-risk people include:
• Those with fair skin and freckles
• Those with red hair and green eyes; blondes with blue eyes
• Family or personal history of melanoma
• Presence of moles
• Those who were severely sunburned early in life
• Those who have used a tanning bed 10 times or more


While most skin cancers are highly curable, melanoma can be deadly.
Here are some things to know about this cancer that kills nearly 8,000 a year and is on the rise.
• In 90 percent of cases, severe sunburns trigger melanoma.
• In the United States in 2003, one in 65 people had a lifetime risk of getting the disease; it is projected that by 2010, one in 50 Americans will be afflicted by melanoma.
• It is the second most common cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 35, and the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30.
• The incidence rate for melanoma has more than doubled since 1973.

The American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology know that Schwartz is far from alone in his cavalier attitude about skin cancer. Skin cancer, with about one million cases a year, continues on a decades-long rise.
Dermatologists classify skin cancer into two groups, melanomas and non-melanomas. Most skin cancers, about 95 percent, are non-melanomas. They are localized and highly curable, although their removal can leave unsightly scarring.
The relatively low toll of non-melanoma skin cancers may explain why people ignore or do not detect the more deadly melanoma, doctors believe.
In so doing, they miss early detection of a cancer that can quickly turn deadly.

Melanoma skin cancers kill nearly 8,000 people a year. They are not as rare as people believe; nearly 60,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year, the ACS estimates. When caught early, melanoma has a five-year survival rate of 96 percent. When detected after the disease has spread, the survival rate drops sharply, to 16 percent. It is mainly a disease of whites, but African-Americans and Hispanics and others with dark skin get it also.   The sun has most often been the culprit, with about 80 percent of melanomas believed to be caused by ultraviolet rays that change cellular DNA. Fairer skinned people are much more vulnerable to the sun's burning rays.

Particularly troubling to doctors who treat skin cancer is the growing melanoma incidence in people younger than 30. While doctors for years agonized mainly about the sun's damaging rays, they now have a new worry in tanning beds.  Some studies suggest that teenagers and 20-somethings believe that they are avoiding skin damage by getting an indoor burn, doctors said, but that is not so. The cellular damage from sunlight occurs because of its ultraviolet rays. Tanning bed lamps also emit UV rays.

"Ten trips to the tanning bed doubles your risk of melanoma," said Dr. Darren Casey, an Atlanta dermatologic surgeon.
Casey and other doctors are using May, Skin Cancer Awareness Month, to preach a message of skin protection and cancer detection and to stress the danger of tanning beds. Free screenings are available throughout metro Atlanta.  Aside from screenings, however, doctors stress prevention by limiting sun exposure, including tanning beds, and wearing sunscreen daily.   "The sun is not everything, but it's the only thing we can do anything about," said Dr. Carl V. Washington, associate professor of dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine.

The SAE Response:

Dear  Ms. Anderson, Atlanta Journal and Constitution;

Regarding your "BY THE NUMBERS" section:

The National Cancer Institute indicates per the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2000 (
·         “during the 1970’s the incidence rate of melanoma increased rapidly at about 6% per year.  Since 1981, however, the rate of increase slowed to a little less than 3% per year”. It has decreased by 50%, not more than doubled as per your suggestion.
·         The top four cancers making up over 50% of all cancer cases are: Lung, Colorectal, Breast, and Prostate.  2003 estimates (the most recent available) show that over 39,000 women will die from breast cancer.
·         Melanoma mortality for the most recent period is less rapidly in white men, and stabilized among white women.
·         The majority of melanoma incidence and mortality is > 45 years of age.

As a member of the American Society of Photobiology, the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors, and the Suntanning Association for Education, I seek to provide factual information to those that wish to obtain a cosmetic tan.  I have taught accredited indoor tanning operator training programs throughout the US and Canada, and been involved in the indoor tanning industry for over 20 years. I live in metro Atlanta and will be more than happy to meet with you in the future to discuss factual information regarding indoor tanning.


Joe Schuster

Media Liaison

Suntanning Association for Education