Skin cancer rates rising in Quebec

Statistics on skin cancer show there has been a significant increase in the number of Quebecers developing the disease in the last decade.

Experts say people underestimate the dangers of sun exposure and tanning beds

Dermatologists say people often underestimate the dangers of regular exposure to the sun. (Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli)

Statistics on skin cancer show there has been a significant increase in the number of Quebecers developing the disease in the last decade.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, cases of life-threatening melanoma increased from 550 in the year 2000, to 740 in 2010, a 34 per cent increase.

Raising even more concerns are figures compiled by a retired Montreal dermatologist.

Using statistics from Quebec's health insurance board, Dr. Pierre Ricard said cases of all kinds of skin cancer doubled during the past decade, according to a report in the Journal de Montreal.

The figures don't surprise other experts.

Dermatologist Ari Demirjian said he's seeing more and more cases of skin cancer in his Montreal clinic, and the numbers don't surprise him.

"Basically the decrease in the ozone layer is permitting more UV rays to reach the earth, and thus damage the skin," said Demirjian.

A table showing the estimated number of melanoma cases between 1991 and 2011 in Quebec (blue) and Canada (red). ((Source: Canadian Cancer Society))
Demirjian said people often underestimate the power of the sun.

"Sun exposure is cumulative. The UV rays which reach and affect the cells in our skin add up. Therefore, when we expose ourselves ten minutes a day during noon time, at the end of the week, that's an hour. That's damage that is added on. The skin cells do not forget that damage," he said.

Demirjian said changing demographics are also a factor.

"When I started practicing 20 years ago, it was at age 50 (that) I usually saw a case, and now at age 30 it's become very common," he said.

The tanning bed issue

André Beaulieu of the Canadian Cancer Society said too many young people are still using tanning beds.

"In five or 10 minutes you can get as much rays as when you expose yourself to the sun for 30, 45 minutes or even an hour," said Beaulieu.

Beaulieu said about 40,000 people have signed a petition demanding minors be prohibited from using tanning beds.

He said it will eventually be submitted to Quebec's national assembly.