image of a doctor instructing a nurse on what she needs to know about cancer in younger patientsRecent data from the American Cancer Society and the Skin Cancer Foundation indicates that skin cancer is on the rise in younger patients, which is an important fact for nurses to keep in mind when meeting with younger patients.

Not only should nurses be aware of the signs of skin cancer in younger patients, but they should consider having a conversation about the known risks of tanning naturally, as well as the use of tanning beds. While skin cancer is the most common type of all cancers in the United States, it is usually not deadly when caught early. However, what is most alarming is that melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is on the rise in young adults. Accounting for just 5% of all skin cancers it accounts for the majority of deaths related to skin cancer. In the United States, one person dies of melanoma every hour of every day.

Nurses and other healthcare practitioners can help educate patients about this alarming statistic and can directly contribute to the knowledge needed to help diminish these statistics. Patient education is the key to melanoma prevention. The skin cancer foundation reports that, “Among people ages 18 to 29 who have ever used a tanning bed and were diagnosed with melanoma, 76 percent of those melanoma cases were attributable to tanning bed use.” While other factors such as family history and smoking may also be attributed to developing cancer, the fact remains that patient behavior is a major contributing factor toward developing the most deadly of all skin cancers. Having a non-judgmental and supportive talk with patients at risk for skin cancer can help save lives.

Many nurses serve as the primary point of contact for younger patients coming in to be seen for routine purposes, such as camp and sports physicals or immunizations before leaving for college. These are important opportunities to present the facts related to skin cancer and to equip patients with the information they need to me make better decisions. There are many online resources to help nurses and other health practitioners create educational pamphlets for patients. The Skin Cancer Foundation as well as the American Cancer Society provides an incredible amount of user-friendly facts on their websites. In addition to these resources, any nurse interested in working with teens in a school setting might consider visiting a local school to present the “Sun Smart” curriculum already prepared and available for free from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

For teens entering a high risk group for skin cancer, a concerned approachable healthcare worker, such as a trusted nurse can be a strong influence on a young and impressionable patient who just may be more inclined to listen to advice from an outsider than from a close family member. Nurses play an important role in patient treatment and are trusted sources of knowledge on many sensitive subjects. With melanoma on the rise in young adults, nurses have the opportunity to raise awareness and help decrease the cases of this potentially deadly disease one patient at a time.

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