Provincial government failing to protect Albertans from growing risk of melanoma

28 May 2014

Calgary -

One of the most preventable types of cancer is one of the fastest rising in Canada, as detailed in the Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014 report released today.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has been increasing significantly in men and women since 1986 – two per cent annually in men; 1.5 per cent annually in women, but this increase has accelerated during the last eight years at 2.6 per cent per year. The melanoma death rate has also increased in this timeframe. Comparatively, the number of new cases and death rate for many types of cancer are decreasing in Canada, including stomach, larynx, prostate and breast.

Melanoma is among the top 10 cancers diagnosed in Canada and an estimated 6,500 Canadians and 570 Albertans will be diagnosed with the disease in 2014.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from overexposure to the sun and other sources – such as indoor tanning equipment – cause about 90 per cent of melanoma cases.

“The increasing rate of melanoma is especially concerning because the disease is highly preventable by using proper skin protection and not using tanning beds,” says Evie Espheter, Public Policy Analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, Alberta/NWT Division. “The Government of Alberta must do its part in helping to reverse this trend by introducing legislation that will ban minors from using tanning beds.”

The risk of melanoma is consistently higher among those who started using tanning beds at an earlier age and for a longer time. In fact, people who start using tanning beds before the age of 35 increase their risk of melanoma by 59 per cent.

How you expose yourself to UV rays also contributes to the development of melanoma. Intermittent and intense UV exposure during childhood and adolescence is most strongly associated with melanoma. Tanning beds are high-output UV machines designed to produce rapid onset and deeply coloured tans. In some cases, the high intensity UV radiation of tanning equipment is five times higher than the midday sun.

“Tanning beds are known to cause cancer,” says Espheter. “We know that the majority of tanning bed users are young females. In fact, nearly one in three 17-year-old girls in Alberta have used tanning beds. Based on current risk behavior, it’s likely that melanoma rates will continue to increase year after year if young people continue to use indoor tanning equipment.”

As with most cancers, the risk of melanoma rises exponentially with age, reflecting the fact that skin cancer can take many years to develop as a result of repeat exposure to risk factors. Melanoma, however, is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 29.

Becky Lynn was just 26 when she noticed a mole on her leg had started to change. A biopsy confirmed she had stage 1 melanoma. She had surgery and a fist-sized piece of her thigh was removed along with the tumour. She then had three years of regular chest x-rays to ensure the cancer hadn’t metastasized.

Lynn started using tanning beds at the age of 16, when a friend’s mom took the two young girls for their first tanning sessions. It eventually became a habit in university, where she tanned weekly for two years.

“I absolutely did not think it was dangerous,” says Lynn, 46, who lives in Calgary. “It was very accessible and I was led to believe it was a perk, a good thing for my health.

“The health claims are so ridiculous and kids don’t always question it,” she continued, mentioning industry myths such as the so-called base tan. “The claims are full of lies. Little has progressed in 20 years.”

The mother of three young daughters – ages 10, seven and five – supports the Society’s call for provincial legislation that bans minors from accessing indoor tanning equipment.

She says her daughters are already questioning if tanning beds are really that dangerous, as they can’t comprehend why something harmful would be permitted in the first place. Lynn worries that without a ban, her daughters might give into peer pressure or that youthful feeling of invincibility and start tanning despite her history.

“It’s naïve to think kids will not be tempted by what they see and hear,” she says. “Kids are going to make mistakes and this is just a really painful mistake to make.”

Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that do not regulate youth access to tanning equipment. The Northwest Territories introduced legislation in March 2013 that bans youth under the age of 19 from tanning beds.

Melanoma accounts for 80 per cent of all skin cancer deaths. An estimated 1,060 Canadians and 95 Albertans will die of melanoma this year.

About Canadian Cancer Statistics
Canadian Cancer Statistics is an annual publication that provides estimates of the burden of cancer in Canada for the current year, and highlights cancer trends and issues. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014 was prepared through a partnership of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada and provincial/territorial cancer registries. Find the full report at cancer.ca/statistics.

About the Canadian Cancer Society

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national, community-based organization of volunteers and staff whose mission is to eradicate cancer and enhance the quality of life of people living with cancer. Thanks to our donors and volunteers, the Society has the most impact, against the most cancers, in the most communities in Canada. Building on our progress, we are working with Canadians to change cancer forever. Make your gift today at cancer.ca.

To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact:
Evie Espheter, Public Policy Analyst
Canadian Cancer Society, Alberta/NWT Division
403-541-5368 | evie.eshpeter@cancer.ab.ca