A not-so-healthy tan
Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak is a dermatologist. So his report last week declaring skin cancer a major public health issue requiring immediate action is rooted not in scientific data alone, but in abundant experience.
About 5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer cases combined. The deadliest form is melanoma because it rapidly spreads to other parts of the body. It afflicts 63,000 Americans each year and kills 9,000.
The National Cancer Institute has reported that melanoma is the most common form of cancer in adults ages 25 to 29 and second most common for young adults aged 15 to 29.
Indoor tanning has been identified as a primary risk for skin cancer, to the point that devices include Food and Drug Administration warnings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30 percent of white women ages 18 to 25 report indoor tanning.
Dr. Lushniak called for action from individuals through the federal government. Avoiding sunburn and indoor tanning are the surest ways to diminish the chances of skin cancer.
And there are broader ways to diminish risk, such as ensuring that open public places have trees and shelters to offer shade. State governments also should tighten restrictions on access to indoor tanning.
At the federal level, the House has passed a bill mandating expedited reviews of new sunblock formulas; the FDA has not approved one since 1999.
Awareness is the best immediate defense, however. Just as the surgeon general launched a campaign against smoking that has produced great progress, Dr. Lushniak has raised an alarm that Americans would be wise to heed.