Sunscreens: Spray now or pay later

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Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young people in the U.S. However, this most dangerous of skin cancers can actually be significantly prevented by wearing sunscreen. The trouble is, too many children and adolescents aren t bothering to use sunscreen, according to a study just published in Pediatrics.

When, in 2004, researchers led by a doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York interviewed 360 fifth-graders, half of the children did not regularly use sunscreen. And, despite reporting high rates of sunburn three years later, 75 percent of this group said that they did not often or always use sunscreen when outdoors for prolonged periods of time.

The findings of this study, which also involved photographic and dermoscopic assessments at baseline and three years later, corroborate the growing incidence of melanoma in young people. Researchers in a 2008 study found that sunburn during childhood almost doubled the risk of melanoma in adulthood.

Unfortunately, studies involving children and adolescents have found that, while knowledge of skin cancer increases with age, appropriate behavior lags behind. And girls especially, the most recent study found, are even more likely than boys to report liking a tan as adolescents.

Having identified the period just before adolescence as a time when individuals become more concerned with tanning, the study authors recommend that more effort be made to educate this age group about the risk of skin cancer.

UV radiation exposure is a real carcinogen, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. Somehow, though, young people are not getting the message. The public is distracted by unfounded fears of carcinogens in just about everything they use, but here is a real concern with an actual means of prevention.