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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Killing time: Skin cancer is coming for the young, tanning addiction may be the culprit

Alex Kulpinski
Alex Kulpinski / Arizona Daily Wildcat Pre-Physiology freshman Will Byrne-Quinn and xxploratory Freshman Chloe Mathis\soak up some sun at the Arizona Recreation Center pool on Friday afternoon.

More people in their 20s and 30s are getting the deadliest form of skin cancer, according to a study from the Mayo Clinic.

The study showed reported melanoma cases increased eightfold among young women and fourfold among young men from 1970 to 2009. Melanoma is estimated to have killed 8,790 people in the United States in 2011, according to the National Cancer Institute. The study looked at cases among people ages 18 to 39.

“I realize there is a desire to have a tan, but there are consequences,” said Tim Bowden, director of basic science research for the Arizona Cancer Center, who had malignant moles and marks removed from his body.

He said neglecting proper protection from the sun as a young adult while enjoying one of his favorite activities, hiking, increased his chances of getting skin cancer. A small red scar, where he had a cancerous growth removed, now sits close to one of his eyebrows. “I know that when you’re young you feel invincible and don’t think about what happens to your skin, but it can be a problem further down the road.”

In the last five years, the Cancer Center has treated 201 patients with skin cancer between the ages of 20 and 30, and 152 of those cases were melanoma.

“I not only see people in their 50s or 60s coming for treatment, I see on occasion teenagers and young people who have it,” said Lisa Quale, a senior health educator for the Cancer Center. “Everybody thinks that cancer, and especially skin cancer, is something only older people can get, but it’s not. Anyone, regardless of age, can get skin cancer.”

Tanning beds to blame?

Bowden said he thinks more young people are getting skin cancer because of the popularity of tanning beds, which were introduced in the 1970s, the decade melanoma saw an uptick.

Using tanning beds, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, raises the risk of developing melanoma by 74 percent.

While tanning beds were first introduced as a safer way for people to tan, they were soon discovered to be more harmful than tanning outdoors, according to Bowden.

This is because tanning beds typically operate on high amounts of ultraviolet rays called UVB rays. Unlike UVA rays, UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and have been found to be more harmful to the skin.

“Young people and children using tanning beds have a significant increase in developing malignant melanoma,” Bowden said. “And unfortunately malignant melanoma can be a very insidious disease and spread to other parts of the body and has a very high death rate.”

Bowden said melanoma, unlike other forms of skin cancer, has the potential to spread to other organs. The National Cancer Institute estimates a five-year survival rate of only 15 percent when this happens.

Is tanning addictive?

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that tanning is not only dangerous, but that it actually changes brain activity as well. Their study, published in the journal Addiction Biology in August 2011, showed that high exposure to ultraviolet rays and the reward of being darker can trigger brain cortexes associated with addiction.

“One of the things we know about tanning is that it is very hard for people to stop,” said David Sbarra, director of clinical training for the Department of Psychology. “If tanning activates certain centers in the brain and it’s pleasurable and behaviors are a consequence, then it gets reinforced that way.”

Jessica Martinez, a business management senior and employee at the tanning salon Tan D Sol, said frequently using tanning beds produces a feeling of happiness because of the warmth of the lights and the exposure to UV rays.

“Some girls will come in here after taking a bad test and ask to use the tanning beds,” Martinez said. “It can be very comforting in a sense.”

Audrey Fitzsimmons, a journalism senior, noticed she was paying a lot in monthly tanning fees at a salon, so she decided to purchase a tanning bed for $600.

Fitzsimmons checks her skin regularly and only tans up to the factory-recommended 20 minutes to be safe. The time limit is the worst part, she said.

“As long as you know the risks and you are cautious and wear sunscreen outside, then I don’t think you will be at much of a risk than someone who does not do these things and uses a tanning bed,” she said.

A tanning addict on campus wouldn’t have trouble getting a fix. There are at least 10 tanning salons within a five-mile radius of campus and student apartments often boast tanning beds as amenities. Residents simply agree to associated health risks in the lease.

Sarah France, a journalism freshman, said she has a monthly pass to a tanning salon and uses a tanning bed on a regular basis.

“When you are paying a monthly fee and you know that you can go as many times as you want, it’s kind of like, ‘Why not just go?’” France said.

Avoid getting burned: Skin cancer prevention tips

Shade is your friend: In the middle of the day, when your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are the strongest. When this happens, try to seek shade.

Cover up: Pick clothing with fabrics you cannot see through when held up to the light.

Sunscreen: Use sunscreen and lip balm with a SPF of 15 or higher. Apply every two hours or after physical activities.

Put a cap on it: Wear a hat that will shade your face, ears and neck. If you wear a baseball cap, sunscreen is needed to protect your ears and neck.

“It’s too bright!”: Your eyes are just as important as your skin. To protect them, wear sunglasses with 99-100 percent UV absorption.

Don’t let those gray days fool you: UV rays travel through clouds, so protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days.

Know the signs: Watch out for abnormal moles, growths or lumps on the skin.

Source: American Cancer Society

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