How to reduce incidences of skin cancer among young women
Did you know that more people receive skin cancer diagnoses each year than any other cancer? This makes skin cancer the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, almost 1 in 5 adults will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 — this statistic is soaring among Gen Z and Millennial women.
New research from the American Academy of Dermatology has found that rates of melanoma, which is the deadliest of skin cancers, have increased by nearly 800 percent among women between the ages of 18 to 39 from 1970 to 2009. Incidences of basal cell carcinoma have increased by roughly 145 percent, and reports of squamous cell carcinoma have gone up by almost 263 percent.
Why is the risk of skin cancer increasing among young women?
There seem to be two main culprits behind the rise in skin cancer rates among young women — the use of tanning beds and lack of education around sun protection.
1. Tanning beds
While tanning beds have decreased in popularity over the years, roughly 7.8 million women still go under the lamp. A 2014 study found that 59% of college students admitted to having used a tanning bed in their lifetime. Researchers estimate that tanning bed use results in around 400,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the United States every year. This is because tanning beds emit intense UV rays — one session in a tanning bed can increase the risk of developing melanoma by 20 percent, squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent, and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent.
2. Lack of education
The American Academy of Dermatology recently surveyed young adults in 2020 and published their findings in 2021. They found that many Millennial and Gen Z adults didn’t know how to protect their skin from sun damage. The survey revealed that:
- 42% of Gen Z and 37% of Millennials didn’t know tanning causes cancer
- 42% of Millennials are unaware that the sun’s UV rays can penetrate clothing
- 35% of Gen Z and Millennials believe that if you don't burn, tanning is safe
This research shows the need for more education about skin cancer and sun protection to help reduce incidences of skin cancer in younger women.
How to prevent skin cancer early on
Skin cancer is largely preventable and is usually curable if caught early enough. Because most skin cancers are linked to sun exposure, it’s crucial to take precautions when spending time outdoors, no matter the season. Getting too much sun can increase your risk for skin cancer and premature aging.
Anyone can reduce their risk of skin cancer by:
- Discontinuing the use of tanning beds.
- Putting on a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapplying every two hours when outdoors.
- Wearing a hat, UV-protective sunglasses, and other protective clothing while outside. Darker clothing typically provides more protection than light clothing.
- Conducting regular skin self-exams and going for annual skin exams with your dermatologist.
- Educating yourself on the ACBDEs of melanoma.
- Avoiding the sun during peak hours between 10 am and 4 pm.
You don’t have to avoid the sun altogether, but you should take precautions. Sun protection early on is critical in reducing the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers. More specifically, you should avoid getting severe sunburns. Even one severe sunburn earlier in life more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life. You can avoid severe sunburns by being extra careful when you're planning on being in the sun all day. Be sure to always carry sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. You can still maintain an active outdoor lifestyle and be safe from the sun's harmful rays by protecting your skin.
1. “AAD Finds One-Third of Americans Fail Quiz on Skin Cancer,” Dermatology Times, April 29, 2021.
2. “Melanoma Rates Have Jumped for Young Women by 800%. Here’s Why,” Healthline, n.d.