With melanoma cases on the rise among young people, Canadian dermatologists are advising people to slap on sunscreen after shedding winter layers.

In the April issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers said women under 40 were hardest hit by melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

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Tanning bed use and sunburns in childhood and adolescence may contribute to melanoma. (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty)

"Young people today associate tans with attractiveness, thanks to television shows and magazines that glorify the bronzed look, but the truth is that there is no such thing as a healthy tan," Dr. John Turner, a dermatologist at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., said in a release on sun exposure awareness.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Canada as well as worldwide, affecting about one in  five people.

The Canadian Cancer Society's top five killer facts about tanning and skin cancer are:

  1. There's no safe way to get a tan. Tanning beds cause skin cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
  2. Melanoma skin cancer is one of the most common and deadliest forms of cancer in young people between the ages of 15 and 29.
  3. Tanning bed use before the age of 35 increases your risk of developing skin cancer by 75 per cent.
  4. UV rays from tanning beds can be five times stronger than the mid-day summer sun.
  5. Tanned skin is damaged skin. Even when the tan fades, the damage is still there.

On Thursday, the society's Ontario branch will discuss its policy recommendations on indoor tanning, such as a recommendation prohibiting youths under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning equipment. Legislation in Nova Scotia and southern Vancouver Island currently have such policies.

Melanoma incidence up

In the American study, the age-adjusted annual incidence of melanoma among females aged 15 to 39 in one county in Minnesota more than doubled between 1973 and 2004.

Cases increased to 13.9 cases per 100,000 persons in 2004, from 5.5 cases per 100,000 persons in 1973, Dr. Jerry Brewer of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and his co-authors, reported.

"In addition to UV exposure in adulthood, tanning bed use and sunburns in childhood and adolescence may contribute to melanoma development," the researchers concluded.

"High-risk behaviour is increasingly common among children and adolescents. Despite public health education campaigns designed to decrease behaviours that lead to excessive UV light exposure, children, adolescents, and adults continue to put themselves at risk."

While the incidence of melanoma among young adults is increasing, their survival rate is also increasing. The study's authors said there are many possible explanations, but the true survival rate for these patients isn't yet known.