Melanoma data underscore magnitude of tanning behaviors

August 1, 2011

Melanoma is increasing faster than any other type of cancer in the United States, and a large portion of this increase is among young women, says Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology, New York University School of Medicine, New York. Clues to this increase can be found within the statistics.

Key Points

New York - Melanoma is increasing faster than any other type of cancer in the United States, and a large portion of this increase is among young women, says Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology, New York University School of Medicine, New York.

Clues to this increase can be found within the statistics.

"It's a tremendous problem, and what's interesting is, if you look at the data in the early 1990s, you were seeing pretty much flat rates or decreases in that age group," he says. "All of a sudden, by early 2000, you start seeing a peak of melanomas in young women, so it becomes very clear there's a relationship.

"There's a latency from the time that you do the damage until you see it, so probably we're seeing the tip of the iceberg," Dr. Rigel says. "We're not seeing the full effect of tanning beds yet, but it's out there."

On the rise

Research in Archives of Dermatology (published online March 21, 2011) included examined data from the California Cancer Registry, U.S. Census and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over two periods from Jan. 1, 1988 through Dec. 31, 1992, and Jan. 1, 1998, through Dec. 31, 2002. Researchers studied records for 3,800 white, non-Hispanic girls and women ages 15 to 39 diagnosed with 3,842 cases of melanoma.

Melanoma rates increased among all of these women, but only women in the three groups with the highest socioeconomic status showed statistically significant increases. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation was associated significantly with melanoma incidence only in the two highest socioeconomic groups.

A national survey of more than 3,800 white women ages 14 to 22 reported by the American Academy of Dermatology revealed that 86 percent of respondents who use tanning beds know this behavior can cause skin cancer, but had tanned indoors within the previous year.

"It was interesting," Dr. Rigel says. "The majority of young women agreed with the statement that UV exposure, no matter what the source, is bad for them and increases the risk of skin cancer, but the majority of the same women also said that people look better with a tan."