The "bikini effect"—or, what’s up with the skyrocketing melanoma stats?

Heidi Adams — By on October 15, 2008 at 10:05 am

So a study came out in the last couple of weeks that prompted a flurry of news stories. Here’s the gist, from lead researcher Mark Purdue, of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics: “We observed a 50 percent increase in the annual incidence of melanoma among young adult Caucasian women between 1980 and 2004.”


The AYA Epidemiology monograph described this finding when published in June 2006, saying:

“Whereas the increasing incidence in older adults has been strongly correlated with solar and other forms of ultraviolet light exposure, there has been no direct evidence that melanoma in children, adolescents, and young adults is related to these factors. On the contrary, most of the melanomas that occur in young persons arise in dysplastic nevi or in parts of the body that are likely to have been protected from ultraviolet light exposure (e.g. trunk and head/neck).

On the other hand, the observed increased incidence among 15- to 29-year-olds—primarily in females, and specifically on their trunks—is compatible with a solar etiology that manifests skin-related cancer this early in life. The cultural emphasis on suntans and increased skin exposure—particularly that of the trunk in females—may well account for this epidemiologic dynamic (the bikini effect). If so, this may be the first evidence that ultraviolet exposure can cause melanoma within a limited number of years, rather than over a decade or more, as previously thought.”

So, we used to get melanomas for no particular reason, which is bad enough, but now it looks like we’re actually endangering ourselves. For a suntan.

Double yikes.

One of the mysterious things about young adult cancer is that they can’t usually attribute it to either congenital factors (like many childhood cancers) or lifestyle factors (like many adult cancers: breast, colon, lung). So let’s not jump on that bandwagon! Plus, many chemotherapies make you more sensitive to sun exposure, so we need to be more careful than most.

I know it’s tempting to get that lovely bronze glow, but I think I’m finally cured of that need. It’s called “working in an office with a melanoma survivor.” I just went on vacation to the beach, and for the first time I felt peer pressure NOT to come back tanned because I knew Courtney would beat me up. :-)

So let’s put the same pressure on ourselves, and on all our friends. Pale is beautiful!

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The "bikini effect"—or, what’s up with the skyrocketing melanoma stats?

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