So Who Exactly Is Not At Risk From Increasing Skin Cancer Rates?

2010-06-02 | |
Last updated: 2010-06-02

Since the World Health Organization published that it was raising the cancer risk for tanning beds to be at the same level as smoking and asbestos exposure, the news published in many countries has included numerous follow up stories. The US health reform bill has levied a 10% tax on tanning salons. In Canada, a Member of Parliament introduced a bill to enforce better warning signs at tanning facilities. In the UK, minors are banned from using such salons at all.

Though these measures are certainly annoying those who enjoyed getting that sun-kissed look, the actions are still fairly modest by any measure given the epidemic that skin cancer represents. With more than 1,000,000 diagnoses per year in the US alone, skin cancer is by far the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer. In particular, the more common types of this cancer account for approximately half of all newly diagnosed cancers.

Now, of course, tanning beds are not the sole source of all these skin cancers and real sun exposure is the major contributing factor. Regardless of the causes, however, the rates of skin cancer are unfortunately increasing in various groups according to the findings from numerous studies.

Were it not for the frequency with which skin cancer occurs, it might receive far less attention than it has because early detection of most common forms of the disease are highly treatable. When diagnosed early, more than 99% of people who develop the disease will survive beyond 5 years. More than anything else, the problem is simply that so many people are affected by skin cancer.

So who is at increased risk of skin cancer?

For starters, according to Cancer Research UK, people now in their 60s and 70s are at 5 times the risk of developing melanomas as compared to the risk faced by their parents some 30 years ago. The melanoma-type skin cancers represent one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer because they are prone to spread.

As well, because they tend to be less careful about exposure to the sun and less diligent in checking their skin, males are at increased risk. In the UK, the rate of skin cancer in men increased by 42% between 1996 and 2006. More specifically, men are half as likely to use sunscreen or avoid the sun according to research from Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Overall, young and unmarried men are at high risk because of their tendency to avoid taking precautions.

According to Cancer Research UK, towards the other end of the age spectrum, the death rates in men over 65 from melanoma, have increased by 3 times since the 1970s.

However, men are not alone in raising their chances of developing skin cancer as some groups of women are also at increased risk. Based on research from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, for women aged 25 to 29, melanomas are the most common form of cancer diagnosed.

As well, in US teenagers aged 12 to 18, the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that only 1 in 3 uses sunscreen. Similarly, according to the British Association of Dermatologists, melanomas in UK teenagers have increased by 4 times from the late 1970s to the late 1990s. Because research suggests that overexposure to the sun before the age of 20 may increase the risk of skin cancer more than sun exposure over the age of 20, this suggests that a whole new generation will face even greater risks of the skin cancers.

From other studies looking at skin cancer in other groups of people, researchers are also seeing rising risks based on occupation and activity.

A study from the University of Miami found that workers in construction, agriculture, forestry, and fishing were less likely to get regular skin tests than workers in other occupations despite the increased risks they face due to frequent outdoor exposure. In addition to the skin cancer risks associated with their employment, the lack of screening means that the skin cancers will be found at a more advanced stage and may be harder to treat.

In addition to these occupations, drivers are also at increased risk of skin cancer. Research from the Saint Louis University School of Medicine found that almost 53% of skin cancers occurred on the left side of patient’s bodies, rather than 50% as might be expected. In fact 92% of the cases were on the head, neck, arms and hands, those areas exposed when driving.

Last but not least, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that athletes involved in outdoor training were at greater risk of skin cancer simply due to increased exposure to the sun.

It’s Better to Ask Who is Not at Risk…

With all these groups at risk, it is really hard to find any groups that are not vulnerable to the increasing rates of skin cancer. According to research published in the Archives of Dermatology, the rate of the most common skin cancers increase by 4.2% per year between 1992 and 2006 for a total increase of almost 77% in that period. The rates of the more rare melanomas also increased in that period.

Aside from maybe the monks secluded in their monasteries, almost all of us face greater risks of skin cancer and need to take greater care in protecting our skin for the future. Just a few blistering sun burns in a lifetime can double our risks of skin cancer and considering that 1 in 5 people aged 70 now have had some form of common skin cancer, doubling those sorts of odds is certainly not a good idea.

Future articles will cover the latest skin cancer prevention possibilities, detection techniques and treatment options. If you have experienced skin cancer or are concerned about the disease, share your thoughts in the forums.

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