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Study: Skin cancer rates jump over past 40 years

Tanning season is about to begin, and what better time to start thinking about skin cancer prevention? A new Mayo Clinic study published Monday found that rates of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, have increased eight-fold among women in one Minnesota county and four-fold among young men over the past 40 years, which the researchers blame on the popularity of tanning salons.

In fact, many people are under the mistaken impression that tanning protects them from skin cancer by helping them avoid sunburns. They need to take steps to prevent both tans and burns, and according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, nearly half of Massachusetts residents get at least one sunburn a year, higher than rates in previous decades. The use of tanning salons in the state has also skyrocketed among teens and young adults.

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These factors contribute to the state’s high rate of melanomas -- 26 percent higher than the national average -- and a death rate from melanomas that’s 15th highest in the nation.

While getting 15 minutes a day of midday sun exposure (with bare skin and no sunscreen) can help the body produce much-needed vitamin D, you should cover up or slap on some sunscreen if you head outdoors for longer periods of time during the spring and summer months.

No doubt, you’ve heard these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before, but they bear repeating:

1. Avoid indoor tanning.

2. Seek shade, especially during midday hours.

3. Wear clothing to protect exposed skin.

4. Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.

5. Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.

6. Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection, and reapply it often throughout the day. Look for new sunscreen labels coming this summer that should make it a little easier to determine which products offer the best protection against skin cancer.

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Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.