Skin Cancer Burns The Young

Tanning sun sunscreen
Sun worship is just part of life for most teenagers. Lazy days at the beach perfecting the golden tan is what summer is all about.

Unfortunately, all that sun is making something else a part of life for the young: skin cancer, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

Dermatologists like Dr. James Spencer, who once thought skin cancer in a 20-year-old was extremely rare, are now seeing it routinely.

When I did my training, which wasn't so many years ago, skin cancer was really a disease of older people," Spencer said.

Recent figures suggest melanoma rates among people ages 15 to 29 are up 50 percent in the last 25 years.

"It's this alarming rise in younger and younger patients that's really, truly a public health problem," Spencer said.

Young people, under pressure to meet today's ideal that says tan is beautiful, are simply spending more time in the sun. But their skin is more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation, and most don't use sunblock properly, applying it only once instead of several times a day.

Many are suffering from the mistaken notion, that burning is bad, but a tan is healthy. Nothing, says Doctor Spencer could be further from the truth: "When you develop a tan, that's your body's response to cell damage."

Deaths from skin cancer are down, but few young people realize the disease can also scar. Geralynn Kelleher knows how scary it can be.

She had her first lesion removed at 20, and a second one taken off just this week at age 34. The experience has left its mark:

"I'm cured for now but I need to be careful," she said.

Doctors admit their biggest challenge in preventing skin cancer is simply getting kids to care today.

"I guess, um, think I'll just worry about it when I'm older," one youngster said.

Not to ruin a good day at the beach, but by then doctors say, it may be too late.