Students’ behavior belies skin cancer risk

by Amber Foley

Summer is just around the corner — it’s time to hit the beach. But beware, students will need more than a suit and a towel this year.
The American Cancer Society states that more than 1 million new skin cancer cases will be diagnosed this year. Additionally, one in every 79 Americans born in 1999 will develop melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime.
“Skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer among young adults,” said Maree Hampton, director of Health Promotion at Boynton Health Service.
The American Cancer Society reports that half of all new cancers diagnosed this year will be some type of skin cancer.
“Fifty percent of all patients I see have pre-skin cancer or skin cancer,” said Sharyn Barney a family practice physician at Boynton Health Services. “It’s pretty scary to see skin cancer in a 20-year-old.”
The American Academy of Dermatology attributes the rise in number of skin cancer cases to spending too much time in the sun or tanning booths without adequate protection.
Students, however, generally have an apathetic attitude when it comes to facing the consequences of tanning.
“Cancer isn’t an issue for most people. Being younger, we don’t think anything can happen to us,” said Amy Tucker, a hair stylist at Dave’s Dinkytown Hairstylists. “We’re constantly bombarded with facts and statistics on health issues. The next thing you know, they’ll be telling us that walking down the street can cause cancer.”
Tucker said students aren’t given the correct facts and, because of this, they’re not given the opportunity to make a good decision on their own.
Damage from the sun is caused by ultraviolet A and B rays. Barney said UVB rays penetrate the surface of the skin, resulting in the stimulation of the pigment melanin and the addition of carotene layers which thicken the skin. Conversely, UVA rays penetrate deeper and the skin is not able to protect itself as well. Although UVB are more protective, they are also more likely to give a sunburn.
And while burns may fade, Barney warns that the damage to the skin is permanent.
“Sun damage has a cumulative effect and permanent sun damage takes decades to show,” she said. But Barney added that someone who is 20 can already see damage to their skin.
Excessive sun exposure over the years without sufficient protection has real and adverse effects on the skin. Tanning will result in severe sunburn, cause damaging effects on the immune system, accelerate premature aging of the skin and an increased risk in skin cancer.
Hampton believes that because of the delayed effects of sun damage, it’s hard for young adults to realize the consequences and act now.
“Students tell me that when they are tan they look healthier,” Hampton said. “It’s a norm in our culture to want to be tan,” she added.
“I feel better about myself when I have some color to my skin,” Tucker said.
For those people who remain insistent upon being bronze, Barney recommends using a self-tanning lotion. She also advises staying out of the sun as much as possible, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., wearing protective clothing and using a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays with a sun protection factor of 15 or greater.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone where suntan lotion every day, Barney added.