The Skin Cancer Epidemic

by Hallie Dukoff on March 28, 2014


Who doesn’t love spending time in the sun? Especially in the current wintry conditions, simple glimpse of the sun makes us rush outside to bask in any little bit of warmth and light its rays provide. While we may love the exposure to the sun, we are still vulnerable to skin cancer even in the dead of winter. Sunscreen and SPF are left in the beach bags until summer time, and their use and effectiveness is completely disregarded more often than not during the winter months. This is something that has contributed to the 77% rise in patients needing skin cancer treatments over the last two decades, making this a major problem throughout the world.

There are two different types of skin cancers: melanomas and non-melanomas. Ninety percent of non-melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays and include basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, and squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer. Only an estimated 2% of those diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma will succumb to the disease, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. The rate of this cancer occurring has increased by over 200% over the last three decades in the United States alone. It is estimated that 40-50% of Americans will have some form of non-melanoma skin cancer by age 65.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It is highly invasive and spreads rapidly. One person dies of melanoma every 57 minutes. While only 5% of diagnosed skin cancers are melanoma, most of the deaths related to skin cancer are caused by melanoma. The prevalence of this skin cancer has risen only 1.9% over the last 15 years, but has become the most common form of skin cancer in American young adults ages 25-29. Exposure to the ultraviolet rays from the sun has caused melanoma to mutate, making it a stronger and even more dangerous form of cancer. These mutations make it more resistant to cancer treatments and more likely to lead to complications and death. Those who make a full recovery from melanoma are nine times more likely to have another instance of melanoma occur.

Why has there been such a greater prevalence of these dangerous skin cancers over these last few decades, especially melanoma? This has been attributed to many different causes. One of the biggest issues and causes of skin cancer is the use of tanning beds. Tanning beds replicate the way the sun transmits ultraviolet light, but at a stronger intensity and closer proximity. Many of the tanning beds currently used provide twelve times stronger ultraviolet rays than the sun does. Tanning beds increase the onset of basal cell carcinoma by 73%, squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, and melanoma by 75%. Another major cause of the increase in skin cancer prevalence is not wearing proper sun protection every day, regardless of the weather and time of year. The rays of the sun can penetrate a cloud cover, and reflect off snow and increase their intensity. As someone with very fair skin who gets sunburns in the dead of winter, I am sure to wear SPF 15 every day to protect myself from the sun’s rays and becoming a statistic of skin cancer.

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