The U.S. Surgeon General's office on Tuesday released a "call to action to prevent skin cancer" that amounts to a call for Americans to run for cover. "Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States," the report states, noting that almost five million Americans are treated for it yearly, costing an estimated $8.1 billion in treatment and lost work days. Melanoma, which accounts for $3.3 billion of that cost, is the deadliest of all skin cancers, killing almost 9,000 people annually. And the problem isn’t going away: Since 1975, incidence rates have steadily increased among both men and women.
Increases in death rates are less drastic, most likely due to advances in treatment and detection methods. Melanoma death rates have stayed relatively even among women, fluctuating between 1.5 and 2.0 deaths per 100,000 people. But men have seen death rates rise around 150 percent since 1975. This difference between men and women may be attributed to differences in skin type and historical differences in sun exposure and sun protection behaviors.
The Surgeon General's report addresses UV radiation from tanning beds—a less common, but more easily avoidable source of UV radiation than the sun. According to a meta-analysis cited by the report, people who said they'd indoor-tanned had a 16 percent increased risk of melanoma over those who never had. A 2014 analysis estimated that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year may be related to indoor tanning. Ten states currently have laws preventing children under the age of 18 from using tanning beds, but almost one third of all non-Hispanic white women between the ages of 16 and 25 tan indoors each year.