Youth and Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is one of the more common forms of cancer in Canadian men and women between the ages of 15-29.1

A history of sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer. Sunburn is more common among younger age groups compared to adult populations.2,3 The higher the number of sunburns a person receives in all life-periods- childhood, adolescents and adulthood- increases the risk of melanoma.4 Protecting youth from sun exposure provides an opportunity to reduce their skin cancer risk over their lifetime. Tips for protecting children under the age of 1.

The health effects of UV exposure from tanning beds are also significantly higher for youth. Young women are particularly affected by this type of exposure because they are more likely to use indoor tanning facilities than young men.5,6

In Canada, it is estimated that 27% of youth between 16-24 years of age use tanning beds.12 The most recent evidence examining the association of tanning beds and melanoma found a 59% increased risk of melanoma when tanning bed use started before the age of 35.7

Tanned skin is widely accepted as an attribute of health and beauty.8,9

Despite being aware of the risks of tanning on their health, the preference for tanned skin often influences youths tanning bed use. Parent’s use of tanning beds has also shown to influence youth tanning behaviours.8,9,10,11


1. Canadian Cancer Society. Canadian cancer statistics special topic: Cancer in adolescents and young adults (ages 15-29 Years). Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2009. Available here.

2. Armstrong BK. How sun exposure causes skin cancer: an epidemiological perspective. In: Hill D, Elwood M, English D, eds. Prevention of skin cancer. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers; 2004: 89-116.

3. Buller DB, Cokkinides V, Hall HI, et al. Prevalence of sunburn, sun protection, and indoor tanning behaviors among Americans: review from national surveys and case studies of 3 states. J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;65(5 Suppl 1):S114-23.

4. Dennis L, Vanbeek M, Freeman L, Smith B, Dawson D, Coughllin J. Sunburns and risk of cutaneous melanoma: does age matter? A comprehensive meta-analysis. Ann Epi. 2008; 18(8): 614-627

5. Demko CA, Borawski EA, Debanne SM, Cooper KD, Stange KC. Use of indoor tanning facilities by white adolescents in the United States. Arch Pediatr Adoles Med. 2003;157(9):854

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. QuickStats: Percentage of teens aged 14-17 years who used indoor tanning devices during the preceding 12 months, by sex and age–United States, 2005. MMWR. October 13, 2006;55(40):1101

7. Boniol M, Autier P, Boyle P, Gandini S. Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012; 345: e4757

8. Geller AC, Colditz G, Oliveria S, Emmons, K, Jorgensen C, Aweh GN, Frazier AL. Use of sunscreen, sunburning rates, and tanning bed use among more than 10,000 US children and adolescents. J Pediatr. 2002;109:1009–14

9. Mayer J, Woodruff S, Slymen D, Sallis J, Forster J, et al. Adolescents’ use of indoor tanning: a large-scale evaluation of psychosocial, environmental, and policy-level correlates. Am J Public Health. 2011 May;101(5):930-8. Epub 2011 Mar 18

10. Hoerster K, Mayer J, Woodruff Sm Marcarne V, Roesch S, Clapp E. The influence of parents and peers on adolescent indoor tanning behavior: findings from a multi-city sample. J Am Academ Derm 2007; 57(6):990-997

11. Dennis L, Lowe J, Snetselaar L. Tanning behaviours among young frequent tanners is related to attitudes and not lack of knowledge about the dangers. Health Educ. 2009; 68(3): 232-243

12. Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. The Second National Sun Survey (NSS2). 2006: unpublished manuscript.