Study finds surge in 2 non-melanoma skin cancers for those under 40

August 11, 2005|By NEWSDAY

The incidence of two forms of non-melanoma skin cancer has tripled among people younger than 40 - particularly women - an increase scientists attribute to tanning's continued allure and Earth's depleting ozone layer.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota say rates of basal and squamous cell carcinomas have risen drastically over the past quarter century, despite repeated public health messages about the importance of sunscreen and protective clothing. The two cancers normally are seen in people older than 50. On rare occasions, doctors said, the cancers have been diagnosed in teens and preteens.

"This has been evolving over time and it has just gotten to the point where it has hit our radar screen," said Dr. Leslie Christenson, a dermatologic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic whose study was reported in yesterday's Journal of the American Medical Association. "Parents are good about putting sunscreen on children but as children reach their adolescent years, parents are no longer allowed to do that."

She and her team examined the health records of 500 people living in Olmsted County, Minn. She said the population is mostly white and is representative of most white populations across the country. As a result, the findings can be extrapolated to people living elsewhere.

The two malignancies, most common among people with fair complexions and red or blond hair, differ in terms of how they look and grow. Both develop on the skin's surface and tend not to spread to distant parts of the body as would melanoma, their deadlier cousin. However, if left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can invade deeper and metastasize.

In total, 800,000 new cases of basal carcinoma and 200,000 of squamous cell cancer are reported annually in the United States. But the analysis found an alarming trend. In 2003, there were 32 cases of the cancers per 100,000 people under age 40 compared with 13 per 100,000 in the late 1970s. More than 56 percent of the cancers were in women.

Doctors not connected with the research also have noticed a recent upsurge in cases among younger people, especially women.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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