Health alert: Skin cancer cases increasing


MISSOULA, Mont. - The acting U.S. surgeon general is asking Americans to give up their love of sunbathing and indoor tanning beds, citing an alarming 200-percent jump in the number of deadly melanoma cases diagnosed since 1973.

Rear Adm. Boris Lushniak says in a new report that nearly 5 million people in the U.S. are treated for all forms of skin cancer each year, at a cost of $8 billion.

He says state and local officials should do more to help people cover up, such as providing more shade at parks, and that colleges should discourage indoor tanning beds on their campuses, much as they would tobacco use.

In Montana, the American Cancer Society is proposing that lawmakers in Helena do something -- banning minors from tanning beds.

Government Relations Director Kristin Page-Nie is leading the campaign.

"Children are so much more susceptible to melanoma. It's so important for us to take those precautions and to also prevent them from being in tanning beds and tanning devices."

NBC Montana learned that Montana has some of the highest skin cancer rates in the nation.

Roughly 2 to 3 percent of Montanans have skin cancer, according to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control. That equates to 20,000 to 30,000 people.

Many of the counties with the highest rates are in western Montana. Altitude may play a factor. With less atmosphere between the ground and open space, there's less resistance to ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn.

Another factor proposed by Page-Nie may be the outdoor lifestyle of the region.

"I think sometimes we forget some of the very simple things that we can do, like wearing long-sleeve shirts or clothing that protects you from the UV rays."

The entire Pacific Northwest has the highest rates of skin cancer in the nation, in addition to Kentucky, Vermont and New Hampshire.

The complete reason for high skin cancer rates in the region has not been determined.

The most important thing is to wear sunscreen and reapply often. A broad spectrum sunscreen protects agains UVA and UVB rays.

Type A causes premature aging and type B causes sunburns. Both can lead to Melanoma over time.

The U.S. House passed a bill on Tuesday to get sunscreens that had been selling overseas into U.S. consumers' hands. The Sunscreen Innovation Act helps streamline the FDA approval process to give consumers more choices when it comes to sun protection.