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Official warns against tanning

WASHINGTON — Stop sunbathing and using indoor tanning beds, the acting US surgeon general warned in a report released Tuesday that cites an alarming 200 percent jump in deadly melanoma cases since 1973.

The report blames a generation of sun worshipping for the $8 billion spent to treat all forms of skin cancer each year.

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Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak said state and local officials need to do more to help people cover up, such as providing more shade at parks and sporting events. Schools should encourage kids to wear hats and sunscreen and schedule outdoor activities when the sun is low in the sky. And colleges and universities should eliminate indoor tanning beds on campus as much as they would prohibit tobacco use, he added.

‘‘We need more states and institutions on board with these policies that discourage or restrict indoor tanning by our youth,’’ Lushniak said. ‘‘Tanned skin is damaged skin.’’

The surgeon general’s ‘‘call to action’’ plan is part of a broader push this year by government officials and public health advocates to raise awareness on what they say has become a major public health problem. While other cancers such as lung cancer are decreasing, skin cancer is rising rapidly. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, five million people are treated for skin cancer each year.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, with 9,000 people dying each year from the mostly preventable disease.

Stacey Escalante of Las Vegas blames years of sunbathing with baby oil and using indoor tanning beds for her melanoma diagnosis in 2005. The mother of two was a 34-year-old television reporter training for a marathon when she found a small red growth the size of a pencil eraser on her lower back. By the time she saw a doctor, the cancer had traveled to her lymph node, requiring two surgeries that left an 8-inch scar. She then spent two years on an experimental drug.

Escalante said she realizes now that she was lucky to survive and was foolish to think she was immune to skin cancer because her father was Hispanic and she tanned well. Escalante is pushing for state legislation prohibiting minors from using indoor tanning beds.

The Melanoma Research Foundation says exposure to tanning beds before age 30 increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.

Doctors recommend doing regular skin checks for new moles and seeing a doctor if any change in size, shape, or color.

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