Surgeon general urges Americans to avoid tanning

'Call to Action' highlights risks of skin cancer

By Heather Leigh - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With the rate of skin cancer continuing to rise in the U.S. -- nearly 5 million people treated every year -- the acting surgeon general is now advising people to stay away from all forms of tanning -- sunbathing and tanning beds.

Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak's report highlights the growing number of cases of skin cancer in America, something which he has referred to as a major health issue requiring immediate attention.

"Right now we're seeing kind of a bad trend developing when it comes to skin cancers. Skin cancers -- melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer -- are increasing. It got to the point for us, right now, to be able to say, 'We need to have this call to action,'" Lushniak told the Washington Post. "I've got to, as acting surgeon general, call out the facts."

Lushniak's Call for Action released Tuesday, said Melanoma accounts for more than 9,700 deaths per year and are the majority of the nation's 13,000's skin-cancer deaths. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and more than 3.5 million people are diagnosed with basal and squamous forms of the disease in the U.S. each year.

INFOGRAPHIC: Skin Cancer rates, women vs. men

Lushniak outlined the behaviors that can heighten the risk of developing skin cancer, including the use of tanning beds. Lushniak has made it clear that there is an increased risk of skin cancer associated with the use of tanning beds.


The plan calls for the public to be given more information regarding the risks of skin cancer and the activities that increase them. Also, information on what to do, such as hat wearing, sunscreen application and shade seeking will be more available. Lushniak wants more states and health authorities to jump on the bandwagon against indoor tanning by helping educate the public about the risks.

In a Call for Action released Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration is taking action by trying to require warnings for tanning beds and limit their use.

There are some easy steps people can take to protect themselves from sun exposure such as seeking shade, wearing a hat, and using sunscreen.

The Call to Action provides a detailed 102-page review of major initiatives that comprise a multi-faceted public health agenda against skin cancer and melanoma. The document includes important elements focused on prevention strategies, ways to reduce UV exposure from the sun and tanning beds, filling research gaps and recognizing the potential for skin screening.

"I think now it's really putting it at the forefront, saying, 'Hey, this is a serious issue that we need to think about,'" said Dr. Jessica Bahari-Kashani, a radiation oncologist at Memorial Hospital. "There's about 5 million cases of skin cancer every year, and of those, about 80 to 90,000 of them are melanomas, and melanomas are the serious ones. And up to one out of eight people with them, diagnosed with melanoma, can die from it. So it's a very aggressive kind of skin cancer."

The Food and Drug Administration recently issued enhanced tanning bed regulations, state legislatures continue to ban indoor tanning for minors, and revolutionary advances in the melanoma research arena have galvanized the entire field of oncology and brought improved outcomes for patients.

"I know it's not really good for you, but I feel like in the summer, you look worse when you're not tan," said Emily Brady, who wears SPF 15 sunscreen all over.

Brady and her friends were soaking up the rays Tuesday at Jacksonville Beach.

"I typically don't burn because I have darker skin and also I don't like the feeling of it," said Lizzy Restivo, who doesn't use sunscreen.

But according to Bahari-Kashani, it doesn't matter what the pigment of your skin is, or even if you burn. The UV rays still do DNA damage that can lead to cancer.

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