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Skin Cancer (And Not a Beautiful Tan) May Turn Out To Be the Real Reward for Sun Worshipping Young Adults

Jul 18, 2005 | According to a new study, despite repeated warnings against the dangers of excessive sun exposure, many young Americans continue to tan anyway.

The tan, in reversal of earlier standards of beauty, has become a sign of the leisure class. The ritual-like sunburns that are now taken for granted each summer and on Spring-break actually represent a severe form of skin damage which increases the chance of developing the deadly skin cancer known as melanoma.

Merely reducing the amount of sun exposure, however, can significantly reduce the risk of this deadliest of skin cancers. Protection from the sun would also reduce the risk of the most frequent forms of skin cancer, basal cell, and squamous cell carcinomas. Skin cancer is currently the most common form of cancer, afflicting more than 1 million Americans each year.

While most Americans are aware of the dangers, the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports that, in a national survey, 31.7% of Americans had been sunburned during the past year.

White men were found most likely to have been burned, with 40% showing three or more sunburns during this period. Black men and women had the lowest incidences.

The recent study also confirmed a correlation between age and sunburns, with 60% of young adults reporting a burn in the last year.

Other current findings, which show that even larger numbers of children from 12 to 18 got sunburns, support this conclusion. In contrast, only 7% of adults 65 and over had been burned.

The researchers not only considered age, but geographic location and economics, finding that both impacted sun exposure. Higher rates of education, income, and larger families were associated with an increase in the number of sunburns, suggesting that tanning and burning may be related to wealth and greater leisure time spent outdoors.

Average sunburn rates were also found to vary according to state, with the Midwest, including Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Wyoming and Wisconsin reporting higher numbers. Fewer burns occurred in Puerto Rico, Florida, Arizona, New York, and Tennessee. States with increased sunburn rates were shown to have more deaths from melanoma.

The most disturbing finding, according to the researchers, is that the study “confirms reports that extensive unprotected sun exposure is occurring among young adults.” The well-documented negative affects of this trend, will not be felt for many years as result of the long latency period between sun damage and the appearance of skin cancer.

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