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Survey: Many Young Women Ignore Tanning Risks
Address Prevention at Every Visit, FP Urges
Of those who used tanning beds, 25 percent said they had done so at least once a week. Nearly 90 percent of respondents who used tanning beds said they knew tanning beds can cause cancer.
Convincing young people to protect themselves from the sun -- and to avoid tanning beds -- is challenging despite the health warnings, said Martin Mahoney M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the health behavior and medicine departments at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, and associate professor of family medicine in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at State University of New York at Buffalo.
"This is a difficult message to communicate because adolescents and young adults have a sense of invincibility," Mahoney told AAFP News Now, "and society continues to promote the misinformed image of a 'healthy tan.' I try to explain that a tan is really the body trying to protect itself from too much sunshine, or UV radiation, leading to premature skin changes and aging."
USPSTF Review of Skin Cancer Counseling Recs 'In Progress'
However, an evidence review conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for the task force in February found new evidence suggesting that counseling in primary care can change behaviors related to tanning and sun protection.
The USPSTF has not yet acted on the new evidence, but skin cancer counseling is one of numerous topics the task force has listed as "in progress."
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, or USPSTF, more than 2 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, and incidence of melanoma -- which accounts for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths -- is increasing. In fact, statistics presented by the American Melanoma Foundation indicate that melanoma is the most common form of cancer among people ages 25-29 years, and it is the second-most common form of cancer among those ages 15-29 years.
Mahoney said patient counseling should include a review of data indicating that rates of melanoma in young people are increasing. The AAD, which released the survey results as part of its Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, said incidence of melanoma is increasing faster among females ages 15-29 years old than among males in the same age group. The majority of young women with melanoma are developing it on their torso, which may be the result of indoor tanning.
"This topic should come up under health maintenance and counseling at preventive care visits," said Mahoney. "That said, every visit represents an opportunity to inquire about tanning behaviors, and it is easy enough to recognize and inquire about tanned skin when interacting with adolescents and young adult patients."
Yet, some parents might not support the message physicians are trying to deliver, the AAD survey suggests. Of respondents who used tanning beds, 94 percent said their parents knew they were tanning, and 42 percent said their mothers also used tanning beds.
According to Mahoney, family physicians have the unique ability to talk to parents and their children separately -- because multiple family members may be patients in the same practice -- and he said he speaks to parents about modeling positive behaviors.
Making the most of opportunities to counsel adolescents and young adults about making smart choices is key to safeguarding these patients' health, said Mahoney.
"It is important to acknowledge that adolescents and young adults tend to complete fewer office visits as they get older," he said, "and when presenting to the office, it is often to address an acute problem rather than a checkup. As a result, it is important to treat every office visit as an opportunity to address preventive care."