Earlier this week, the "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer" was released, showing that overall cancer death rates continue to decline in the United States among both men and women, among all major racial and ethnic groups, and for all of the most common cancer sites, including lung, colon and rectum, female breast, and prostate.
This is good news; however, a closer look at the data also reveals cause for concern. While cancer deaths overall are going down, one form of cancer continues to increase in Minnesota and nationwide -- melanoma. In fact, melanoma rates in Minnesota have doubled in the last 24 years, making it one of the most common cancers among 20- to 49-year-olds in the state.
This jump is attributable to increased exposure to UV radiation, including an increased use of tanning beds. Tanning beds greatly increase the risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, as well as squamous and basal cell carcinomas. Using a tanning bed, even once, increases the risk of skin cancer significantly. Using one before the age of 35 increases an individual's risk of melanoma by 75 percent. For this reason, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in 2009, labeled tanning beds Class 1 carcinogens -- the same as cigarettes.
Many people believe the UV rays of tanning beds are harmless. This is simply not true. Tanning beds give out UVA and often UVB rays, both of which cause long-term skin damage and are linked to skin cancer. Most dermatologists and health groups advise against using tanning beds and sun lamps. This year alone, an estimated 1,130 new melanoma cases are expected and nearly 120 Minnesotans will die from the disease. These cancer diagnoses are avoidable if Minnesota takes steps to protect residents from UV rays, including prohibiting youths from using tanning beds. Currently, 42 percent of Twin Cities' girls ages 14 to 17 report using tanning beds. If we don't change this, we will continue to see rising melanoma rates.
As a dermatologist, I see firsthand the devastating toll that skin cancer takes on Minnesotans. It's time to take a tangible step toward protecting health through preventing melanoma.
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The writer is a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.