PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2012, 12:00am


Janey Helland of Mapleton, Minnesota, didn't think twice when tanning in high school and college.

'I used tanning beds to get ready for homecoming and prom,' she says. 'In college, I tanned before a trip to Barbados, because I didn't want to get sunburned.'

At age 21, Helland noticed an abnormal spot on her leg. It was melanoma, and the diagnosis changed her life. 'I really didn't know what my future was going to look like, or if I'd even have one,' she says.

Rates of skin cancer are rising dramatically in the United States, especially among people under 40 - even as rates of some other cancers are falling - the non-profit Mayo Clinic in Minnesota says. A study in this month's issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that the incidence of melanoma had increased eightfold among young women and fourfold among young men from 1970 to 2009. Women in their 20s and 30s were hit hardest.

The use of indoor tanning beds, the researchers speculate, is a key culprit behind this alarming trend.

'A recent study reported that people who use indoor tanning beds frequently are 74 per cent more likely to develop melanoma, and we know young women are more likely to use them than young men,' says lead investigator Dr Jerry Brewer, a dermatologist. Childhood sunburns and ultraviolet exposure in adulthood may also contribute to melanoma development, the researchers say.

Brewer says the lifetime risk of melanoma is higher in males than females, but the opposite is true for young adults and adolescents.

In Hong Kong, statistics from the Hospital Authority's Cancer Registry show the incidence of skin melanoma has remained relatively stable in the past decade, with an average rate of 0.3 per 100,000 people aged between 20 and 44, and a rate of 0.6 per 100,000 people for all ages.

Two years after her diagnosis, Helland is cancer-free and dedicated to educating others.

'It's better to be safe than sorry,' she says. 'My advice is to educate yourself and research the risk factors.'

As summer approaches, it's worth noting the dangers of excessive sun exposure and tanning.

Test yourself on skin cancer here.

1. Which of these are risk factors for skin cancer?

a. Fair skin

b. Having a relative with skin cancer

c. Many moles

2. How much of the sun's UV rays break through clouds and rain?

a. About 3-6 per cent

b. About 31-45 per cent

c. About 60-80 per cent

3. Which skin cancer is considered the most serious and can spread to other areas of the body?

a. Basal cell, non-melanoma skin cancer

b. Squamous cell, non-melanoma skin cancer

c. Melanoma skin cancer

4. What does melanoma skin cancer usually look like?

a. A large, irregular mole

b. A rough, scaly patch

c. A large, red bump

Answers: 1. all are correct; 2. c; 3. c; 4. a