SPRING BREAK WARNING: Melanoma on the rise in Minnesota - KMSP-TV

SPRING BREAK ALERT: Melanoma on the rise in Minnesota

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

A skin cancer warning in January in Minnesota?

New data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows melanoma skin cancer continues to be one of the most rapidly increasing cancers among Minnesotans – an especially timely warning with spring break just around the corner.

From 2005 to 2009, melanoma rates in Minnesota increased 35 percent for men and 38 percent for women

"If not found early, melanomas can spread to other parts of the body and can be deadly," said commissioner of health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. "For Minnesotans the main risk for sun exposure is in the summer, but we also want to remind people taking winter vacations that they risk serious health consequences, if they don't protect their skin from ultraviolet light."

And don't believe the myth of a pre-vacation "base tan," which only increases your chance of developing skin cancer.

"The idea that it is a good health move to get a ‘base tan' before going on vacation is a myth," Ehlinger said. "Sunburns and exposure to the sun or tanning booths increase one's risk of cancer. And a base tan does not help. A base tan is just more exposure that adds to your risk of developing skin cancer."

The recent increase in melanoma is similar to what is being reported nationally and part of a longer-term trend in Minnesota. In 2009, about 1,460 Minnesotans were diagnosed with invasive melanoma of the skin, nearly triple the cases reported in 1988.

Dr. Mohiba Tareen told FOX 9 News she's seen the rise first-hand, and the patients she treats keep getting younger and younger.

"It's really important that minors not tan because their skin cells are so susceptible to damage," she explained.

Now, Tareen hopes to get a law passed this session that would limit tanning beds to adults only. She helped get similar legislation passed in New York, and believes it's time for Minnesota to do the same.

"Life should go on. We should enjoy life, but we should do it in a sun-smart way," she said.

Since 1995, the melanoma rate for white women age 20 to 49 in Minnesota has doubled. In 2009 the rate for women in this age group was twice the rate for men – likely due to UV exposure from indoor tanning.

Melanoma of the skin is a more serious form of cancer than the more commonly-diagnosed basal and squamous cell skin cancers.

The best protection against skin cancer is reduced exposure to sunlight and tanning beds. Anyone heading out into the sunshine is advised to use a about a shot glass full of mineral-based SPF-30 sunscreen to cover their entire body and reapply every 2-3 hours.

The CDC estimates 65 percent to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light. Other risk factors for melanoma are family history of skin cancer, fair skin, and certain types of moles as well as a large number of moles.

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