With Skin Cancer Rates Up, Surgeon General Warns: Keep Covered

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With skin cancer rates rising more than 200 percent from 1973 to 2011, the office of the Surgeon General is warning Americans to take cover.

In a report released Tuesday, the office of U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak blamed a culture of sunbathing and tanning beds for the alarming rise in melanoma rates. Every year, more than 63,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States and nearly 9,000 people die from melanoma. It's the most common kind of cancer diagnosed among U.S. teens and young adults -- and it's also the most preventable.

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"While many other cancers, such as lung cancer, are decreasing, rates of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer -- are increasing," said Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H. said in a release.

"As a skin oncologist who worked in this field for many years, I have cared for both the young and old with skin cancers. Almost all of these cancers were caused by unnecessary ultraviolet radiation exposure, usually from excessive time in the sun or from the use of indoor tanning devices."

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Although any tanned skin is effectively damaged skin, the report says that one out of every three young white women in the United States uses indoor tanning devices each year. According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, using a tanning device before age 30 increases a person's risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.

Not only is tanning perilous to your health, its damaging effects have also proven expensive to treat. Treatment for the cancers runs an annual cost of around $8.1 billion, according to the Surgeon General report.

Also, even if you have a darker skin tone, the report emphasizes you are not immune.

"While those with lighter skin are more susceptible, anyone can get skin cancer—and it can be serious," Koh said in the release.

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In fact, people with darker skin tones tend to taker fewer precautions and tend to be diagnosed later once the cancer has become more difficult to treat, according to the report.

While the Surgeon General hardly cautions against enjoying the great outdoors, it does spell out the often cited ways to keep your skin safe: Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and other protective clothing when out and about. Seek shade -- especially during the midday hours when UV rays are most intense. Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and reapply every two hours, more if swimming or sweating.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also outlines ways schools, businesses and urban planners can play a role in making it easier for people to protect themselves by providing more shady areas and requiring school children to wear sun protection when they’re outside.

Photo: ThinkStock

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