Why NJ residents can’t ignore risk of skin cancer
Here's something to consider before you go tanning: About 2,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year in New Jersey.
Broken down, that translates to about 21 cases of Melanoma per year, per 100,000 people, according to Dr. Elliot Coups, behavioral scientist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. That's slightly higher than the national average of 20.
It still puts New Jersey around the middle of the pack — about 20 states have a higher incidence.
Nationwide and in New Jersey, in the last 20 to 30 years the rate of Melanoma has increased about 3 percent per year, Coups said.
In the last five years, that's leveled off "so that's been encouraging really, reversing that ongoing trend of increasing rates," Coups said. "So, we're optimistic that the rates will continue to stabilize as we go forward."
States with higher incidences of melanoma aren't necessarily coastal ones — even though 90 percent of melanoma cases are caused by excess exposure to the sun, and you'll find beaches along the coast.
"It's hard to say definitively why any one state has a particular incidence of melanoma," he said. Factors such as the climate, the latitude and altitude can play a role
Coups also said melanoma is most commonly diagnosed among non-Hispanic white individuals and less among other racial ethnic groups.
"So that accounts for why we actually see a high incidence of Melanoma in states with a greater proportion of non-Hispanic white residents, such as Utah, Vermont and New Hampshire," Coups said.
Another factor: that Melanoma is typically diagnosed among older individuals.
"So states that have a higher proportion of older adults will also more likely to have a higher incidence of Melanoma compared to other states," Coups said.
The risk is particularly higher among older adult males. But Coups melanoma has increased among young adult women in recent years. Melanoma now among the leading cancers among women age 25 to 29 years of age, he said.
"That's been a relatively new finding and one that we attribute in part to the fact that that group engages in highest rates of indoor tanning, so going to tanning salons and baking in tanning beds," Coups said.
Exposure to ultraviolet rays, either from the sun or from artificial sources, is considered a major risk factor for both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, which include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
In 2013, New Jersey enacted a law banning individuals under the age of 17 from indoor tanning at commercial facilities.
"So although it's great that the under-17 ban was enacted in New Jersey, it still does mean that many individuals, young adults and teens are still able to engage in indoor tanning," Coups said.
The cancer is still rare among young people overall, he said.
"Only about 7 percent of cases of melanoma are diagnosed among people under the age of 35. So, it's not a very common cancer among young adults, but it's certainly one that we're very aware of and one we're seeing more of, which is why it's of particular cause for concern at the current time," said Coups.
Genetic factors do play a role, to some degree, in Melanoma, according to Coups — that's thought to only account for 2 to 3 percent of skin cancers in the country. Skin tone and color and hair and eye color can also be factors.
To avoid putting yourself at an increased risk of developing Melanoma, Coups suggested going outdoors after peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), wearing protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses, staying in the shade when possible, and wearing sunscreen.
There are sprays, gels, lotions and sticks, but "the best type of sunscreen is the one that you will use," Coups said.
He recommended a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.
"That really does provide very good protection from the sun. There are sunscreens with higher SPFs, 50 and higher, but really once you get above SPF 30, you're not really getting a lot of additional benefits from a higher SPF. It's very minimal," Coups said.
Suncreen should be applied 15 to 20 minutes before you go in the sun and at least every two hours if you are swimming or sweating, Coups said.
"It's also important to note that sunscreen alone may not provide sufficient protection for everyone," Coups said. He suggested combining it with other protective measures.
In addition, Coups encouraged the public to take advantage of Choose Your Cover, a skin cancer screening initiative supported by the state.
Last year, more than 2,000 people were screened at more than 50 sites across New Jersey, primarily beaches, parks and other outdoor recreational areas, he said. This year, Choose Your Cover events will be happening on Saturday, July 16.