PUBLISHED: 4:52 PM on Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Skin cancer takes fun from sun
Sandy Beverly can turn to her computer in the pathology lab at University Hospital and call up a biopsy report that has special significance - it's hers.

The report on the second skin cancer on her face is a sobering reminder of how common basal cell skin cancer has become - and who it affects.

"It used to be you would think that it was the farmers and the people who work outside a lot in the sun," said Beverly, 41, who got her first skin cancer at age 39. "But I guess it's changed over to the women now."

Dermatologists are decrying what they see as an epidemic of skin cancer, particularly in women. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that between 1976 and 2003, the rate for basal cell cases tripled in women, according to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

"We did the study because we felt there was maybe an increase in young people," said lead author Dr. Leslie Christenson, a dermatologic surgeon at Mayo Clinic. "But we didn't know if it was biased just because we were here at the clinic and we see a lot of different things. But the study says, no, we're not biased. That's what's happening. Most specifically, young women, and most specifically basal cell carcinoma in young women less than 40."

While her study didn't try to identify the cause, Christenson has some prime suspects.

"The biggest cause of non-melanoma skin cancer is sun exposure or ultraviolet light, be that sun exposure from the natural sun or in tanning beds," she said.

However, blaming tanning beds is "very controversial," said Dr. Karen Parviainen, a local dermatologist. "It's kind of a hot topic."

"Tanning beds have more UVA than UVB, and it was thought UVB would cause cancer. But more and more we think that UVA is playing more of a role than we thought."

In fact, "I have several women who now they wish they would speak out and tell those going to tanning beds, don't do it," Parviainen said.

They won't have to tell Julie Plummer, 24, who used to go weekly to the tanning beds until last month, when she got concerned about a mole on her chest and went to see a dermatologist. He recommended a biopsy.

"You don't hear biopsy when you're my age," said Plummer, a hospital community relations manager. "It wasn't skin cancer, but that just scared me from ever going again."

It's not that people don't know the dangers, Christenson said. They just don't change their risky behavior, sort of like eating fast food.

"We know it's not very good for us, but we keep going," she said. "When we're dealing with young people, their risk of skin cancer or anything bad happening to them usually seems so distant and not possible. So it's difficult to get behaviors to change."

But until it does, "it probably will continue to increase," Christenson said.