Skin cancer treatment costs in the U.S. have soared over the past decade, jumping from an annual $3.6 billion between 2002-06 to $8.1 billion per year between 2007-11. According to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the national cost of skin cancer treatment rose 126 percent during that time, while costs for all other cancer treatments rose by just 25 percent.
A major factor in the rising cost was an increased number of those seeking treatment. Between 2002-06, 3.4 million Americans received treatment for skin cancer, and between 2007-11, that number had reached 5 million. Public awareness about ultraviolet rays and preventative measures has improved, and although skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the U.S., it is also preventable in most cases, reports The Washington Post. One culprit of the increase in skin cancer cases may be the use of tanning beds.
The Melanoma Research Foundation estimates that up to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to UV rays. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies tanning lamps and tanning beds as carcinogenic to humans, its highest cancer risk category. Other substances in that category include plutonium and types of radium. The risk of melanoma increases 75 percent among tanning bed users under 30. Chances of developing melanoma triple among even occasional users, and melanoma is the leading cause of death from cancer in women age 25-30.
A soaring number of skin cancer cases is not the only factor in the higher cost, though it does appear to be the most significant. However, the cost of treatment has risen, too. The average cancer treatment per patient from 2002-06 cost $1,000, but rose to $1,600 between 2007-11. Most of that expense will not be seen by the patient, reports The Washington Post, but by Medicare and private health insurance companies footing the bill.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are many more risk factors for developing skin cancer than exposure to UV rays, including having naturally fair skin, moles, precancerous skin lesions, a weakened immune system, exposure to arsenic and certain radiation treatments for skin condition like eczema and acne. The risk factors related to sunlight exposure include living at a high-altitude and a history of sunburn. Just one blistering sunburn as a child or teenager can greatly increase the risk of skin cancer.
An echoed sentiment among doctors and researchers is that prevention is key. A 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that over 13 percent of high school kids had already used a tanning bed, and that only 14.4 percent of girls and 7.3 percent of boys who were outside for more than an hour used a sunscreen with 15 SPF or higher. Roughly one-third of teens in the U.S. age 14-17 had a sunburn the year prior to the study. Gery Guy of the Cancer Prevention and Control division of the CDC says the soaring cost of skin cancer treatment gives a clear view that more needs to be done to prevent the rising number of skin cancer cases.
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