Over 2 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. Or to put it another way—a number you can count on one hand—an estimated one in five Americans develops some type of skin cancer at least once in their life. The frontrunner in this epidemic is melanoma, which has been increasing now for 30 consecutive years.
A new study out of St. Louis focuses on the rise of melanoma in teens and children, and what this disturbing trend tells us about preventing skin cancer.
Currently, the percentage of Americans under the age of 19 with melanoma is low—just 1 to 4% of all diagnosed cases in the U.S. However, statistics have shown that the number of pediatric cancer cases in recent years is rising at the rate of 1 to 4% annually—the same rate of increase for melanoma in adults.
One of the reasons doctors are starting to see more adolescents and children being diagnosed with skin cancer is because these are typically the years in a person’s life that they are most exposed to UV radiation. Especially in the summer months, when the sun is at its strongest, children and teens tend to spend long hours outside at the beach, in swimming pools, or playing sports—all the while without any sun protection.
In fact, it has been estimated that the average child receives three times the UV radiation that an average adult does. Later on in life, this exposure can develop into melanoma.
But it isn’t just the call of summer fun in the sun that is causing waves of teens to be overexposed to UV rays. Indoor tanning salons are starting to see a growing number of customers who are still in high school.
Teenage tanning got so widespread in New Jersey that the state recently banned minors under the age of 17 from using indoor tanning salons, and California, New York, Vermont, and the Illinois cities of Springfield and Chicago have already passed similar legislation.
So what do these findings suggest about why more and more children and teens are being diagnosed with melanoma? Dr. Kimberly J. Johnson, senior author on this study, answers, “Although the exact reasons for this trend are unclear, parents should be vigilant about helping children and adolescents reduce their chance of developing melanoma by practicing sun-protective behaviors and avoiding tanning beds.”
Perhaps, nowhere else is this vigilance needed more with our children. The habits they learn today can last a lifetime, so talk to your child or teen today about the importance of protecting their skin from melanoma.