Do Sunburns and Tanning Cause Melanoma?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|May 19, 2011

One in 60 Americans will develop melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime. This cancer strikes the young as well as the old, and it's serious.  Caught early it's usually curable, but when it's caught late it can be deadly. Sunburns and tanning put a person at risk for melanomas. Sunburns and tanning are pretty common, especially in kids and teenagers.  This is what makes melanoma so sad, but it's also the part that I find hopeful. If we can get this message out there then we can do something to protect ourselves and the people we love! No one needs a tan to have a great summer or fantastic vacation.  No one needs a tan to look beautiful.  These are deadly choices.  Help change the old way of thinking, tans are passe. Watch this moving, well done and highly motivational video and share it with the people you care about. People are posting it on their Facebook page.  It's making it's way across the web.  Be part of that movement, let's get the message out, people need to hear it right now and let's make that happen. Melanoma isn't something remote, like being struck by lightening, it will happen to someone you know.  1 in 60 Americans will develop melanoma in their life time.  That 1 in 60 is more likely to be you or someone you care about if:

  • You have many moles (ie. 50 or more), large moles or irregular moles
  • You have a history of blistering sunburns
  • You have ever used tanning beds
  • You have a close blood relative who has had melanoma
  • You are in the upper middle economic class (go figure!)
  • You are a Caucasian with fair skin, especially a red head or blond or have blue or green eyes
  • Your immune system is suppressed for any reason

I'm in this group.  I'm fair skinned, blond blue eyed, have a lot of moles and 2 close blood relatives with melanoma.  I was also seriously tanning addicted in my teens.  (Click here to read my story: Tanning Addiction; Dermatologist's Personal Story) How do I deal with this?  I get my annual full skin exams and hope that if I get melanoma it's slow growing and we catch it fast.  I also do my own self skin exams every month, but I can't see all my skin, so I need help too.  I also protect my skin from the sun now, because that matters.  It's not all 'water under the bridge'.  Sun protection today helps my body's immune system fight skin cancer because UV rays suppress the skin's immune system and that's not good. What you can do to protect yourself and the people you care about from melanoma:

  1. Don't tan or sunburn-ever!
  2. Get a full skin exam, do it soon if you have the risk factors I mentioned above
  3. Learn the signs of melanoma and do your own monthly self skin exams

Resources to help you become a melanoma prevention expert: 1.  The Skin Cancer Foundation has a great page on the warning signs of melanoma. 2.  Learn to pick the right sunscreen, it matters.  Click on these links to become a sun protection pro:

How High Of An SPF Does Your Sunscreen Need To Have?

5 Steps For Smart Sun Protection

Are Your Summer Clothes Good Enough To Be Sun Protective Clothing?

Great Summer Hats: What Works and What Doesn't

If You Want A Nice Sunburn Use Last Year's Sunscreen!

3.  Be a style setter and part of the new trend, tans are dated and untanned skin is the new beautiful.  Tans are passe-thank goodness!  If you still want a little golden glow to your skin, get it in a healthy way:

Skip The Tan & Eat Your Veggies For Beautiful Skin Color

Use Self Tanners Like A Pro

Take good care of yourself and the people you love.....

Stop tanning, Help someone you love to stop tanning Get a full skin exam

References: Rigel DS., Epidemiology of melanoma, Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2010 Dec;29(4):204-9.

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