man and woman at beach
Image: Ed Gregory, Stokpic
June 02, 2015

A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study found that the number of cases of deadly skin cancers has doubled during the past 30 years.

The report also found that without community intervention the number of cases, and the associated costs, will continue to increase exponentially. Prevention efforts, it says, could prevent 21,000 new cases of melanoma by 2030.

The CDC says melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers, is responsible for about 9,000 deaths each year, with 90 percent of cases being caused by skin cell damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure.

According to the report, melanoma rates increased from 11.1 per 100,000 in 1982 to 22.7 per 100,000 in 2011. In 2011 more than 65,000 new melanomas were diagnosed, bringing with them about $457 million in annual treatment costs.

Without additional community prevention efforts, melanoma rates will continue to increase during the next 15 years with 112,000 new cases projected in 2030. The projected cost to treat new cases is expected to nearly triple to $1.6 billion.

While tans have long been thought of as healthy, bronzed skin and sunburns are the body's response to damage from UV exposure. A tan, says the CDC, is a sign of damaged skin.

Unprotected sun exposure isn't the only way to come into contact with UV rays. About 6,200 melanomas are estimated to be caused each year by indoor tanning, which exposes people to more intense UV rays than the sun.

NC Bans Minors from Tanning Salons

The CDC estimates that nearly 1 in 3 young non-Hispanic white women between 16 and 25 use indoor tanning beds each year.

North Carolina Health News reported in 2014 that a UNC-Chapel Hill study found that of the 700 female students surveyed 45 percent used a tanning bed. The majority of women, 80 percent, began using tanning beds in high school, and a significant number were introduced to tanning by their own mothers. The report also found that many women knew the dangers of tanning, but those risk didn't dissuade them.

For high schoolers looking for a dose of artificial sun, North Carolina previously required parental permission for minors under 18.

Despite little support in the past, in May Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Jim Fulghum Teen Skin Cancer Prevention Act, which bans teens under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning salons. Originally introduced in 2009, the bill saw little movement by legislators and it was heavily opposed by industry groups claiming that it would regulate tanning salons out of business. The bill goes into effect Oct. 1.

CDC Urges Community Prevention Efforts

Along with discouraging use by minors of indoor tanning beds, the CDC is urging local governments and policy makers to increase shade at playgrounds, public schools and other public spaces that would offer some safety from the sun.

Policymakers can also promote sun protection in recreation areas, including the use or purchase of hats, sunscreen, and sunglass. Employers, childcare centers, schools and colleges should educate employees and students about sun safety and skin protection.

Sun exposure can be prevented by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and protective outdoor clothing. If possible avoid the sun during midday hours when it is strongest and always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher even on cloudy days.

Parents and caregivers, however, should avoid using sunscreen on infants. Since babies are more likely to have a reaction to the chemicals in sunscreen, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that babies should be shaded and covered in light, tight-knit fabrics instead.

More information about skin cancer and melanoma can be found on the CDC website.