Survey: Young adults soak up sun, ignoring skin cancer concerns

David Albers/Staff
- Naples residents Rachel Rodriguez, left, and Tina Simpkins spend time at the beach with friends near the Naples Municipal Pier on Thursday, May, 10, 2012, in Naples.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - Naples residents Rachel Rodriguez, left, and Tina Simpkins spend time at the beach with friends near the Naples Municipal Pier on Thursday, May, 10, 2012, in Naples.

To prevent sunburn, Jon Gray and his wife, Kathleen, always apply ample sunscreen with sun protection factor, SPF, of 50 and sit under an umbrella on the beach.

"I'm scared of getting melanoma," said Kathleen Gray, 49, after spending about two hours at Vanderbilt Beach on Thursday afternoon.

A survey released Thursday indicates many young people don't have the same fears.

Half of U.S. adults under 30 say they have had a sunburn at least once in the past year, a government survey found — a sign young people aren't heeding the warnings about skin cancer.

The rate of sunburn is about the same as it was 10 years earlier, reversing progress reported just five years ago.

"I don't know that we're making any headway," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer.

Experts say that even one blistering burn can double the risk of developing melanoma, an often lethal form of skin cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the study Thursday, which was based on a 2010 survey of about 5,000 U.S. adults ages 18 to 29. The study showed that the share of those who said they had a sunburn in the preceding year went from about 51 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2005, but then went back up to 50 percent in 2010.

Researchers don't know for sure why the sunburn rate picked up again, said Dr. Marcus Plescia, director of the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

Surprisingly, the CDC also found an increase since 2005 in how many people said they wear sunscreen or take other steps to protect their skin. But only about a third said they usually wore sunscreen. And the increasing rate of sunburns suggests many people are not putting on enough or reapplying it sufficiently, some experts said.

North Naples resident Todd Vlazny, 24, says he worries about skin cancer, so he only visits the beach a couple of times a month and uses sunscreen with at least a 10 SPF.

"You have to go out with some kind of protection," Vlazny said, headed to Vanderbilt Beach for one to two hours.

This past year, Vlazny got sunburned. He said it was standard peeling of the nose. Vlazny said he doesn't use tanning beds or spray tans.

Julia Delutio, 22, a Chicago residents visiting Naples, soaked the rays for about 30 minutes at the Vanderbilt Beach.

"I enjoy tanning, but I put on sunscreen before," she said.

Dr. H. Ross Harris, a board certified dermatologist practicing at Harris Dermatology in Naples, said the prevention of the tanning is what is important.

"I am still surprised by the number of young people, women including that think laying out is OK and that a little sunburn isn't bad," Harris said. "Because in my practice, that same person in 15 or 20 years is coming in with a skin cancer."

Harris said he tries to educate his patients about sun protection and that a "little sun" does have a harmful effect.

He encourages people who have had a sunburn in the past to get a skin cancer exam by a board certified dermatologist.

Dr. Jerry Lugo, a Naples board certified dermatologist, said most people do have the knowledge about skin cancer and are aware of the importance of protecting their skin from the sun, but they are still tanning.

"The problem is that there is a disconnect between the knowledge and the behavior," Lugo said.

He said this happens because the damage doesn't show until decades later.

Lugo said another problem is the misconception that being tan is attractive when in reality tanned skin is the first sign of damage to the skin.Also on Thursday, the CDC released findings from the survey on how many people use tanning beds, booths or sun lamps, and Lichtenfeld said of the results: "I am astounded."

About 6 percent of all adults said they had done indoor tanning in the previous year. The rates were much, much higher in young white women: About 32 percent of white women ages 18 to 21 had done indoor tanning, and nearly as many white women 22 to 25 did.

A similar survey in 2005 found about 27 percent of young women said they had done indoor tanning.

The latest study found indoor tanning often involved more than one trip to a salon for the novelty of it, or to bronze for a special occasion. Women in their 20s said they did indoor tanning more than 20 times in the previous year, on average.

Another surprise: As many as 13 percent of women who had a family history of skin cancer had done indoor tanning.

Experts said there is no longer significant scientific debate that indoor tanning causes cancer. In 2009, tanning devices were classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. That was based on an analysis of 20 studies that found the risk of melanoma rose 75 percent in people who started indoor tanning before age 30.

"It's not a question of whether tanning beds cause cancer anymore. We've been able to prove that," said Dr. Jerry Brewer, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist and researcher.

The CDC's Plescia said tanning beds are driving "an epidemic in the making."

Others shared that concern.

"It's the sunburn you got when you were 18 that leads to the cancer you get when you're 40. That sunburn will come back to haunt you," warned Dr. Zoe Draelos, vice president of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Kathleen Gray has not had a sunburn since she was young. She stopped soaking up the rays about five years ago when she saw more people dying from melanoma.

"I look at these people that are totally orange," Gray said, "and I say that's not healthy."

Staff writer Tracy X. Miguel contributed to this report.

An Associated Press report was used in this story.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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