OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - It is being called an epidemic. The deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma , is on the rise and is spiking among an unusual group -- younger people.
Kevin Kagel was recently diagnosed with melanoma that has spread to his brain, liver and lungs. The diagnosis is more common in someone over the age of 50, but Kagel is just 27.
"It looked like a normal kind of light brown mole but it had like a black spot on it," Kagel told our reporting partners KGTV in San Diego, Calif. “It was terrible. You’re just scared.”
Kagel is part of an alarming trend of more and younger people being diagnosed with melanoma.
A recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. finds that in the last 40 years the rate of melanoma in patients ages 18 to 39 shot up more than 8 times in women and more than 4 four times in men.
Mark McCune is a dermatologist with Kansas City Dermatology in Overland Park, Kan. He said he has seen the dramatic increase during his time in Overland Park.
“When I first came to Kansas City and started working, I would maybe take off 5 or 6 melanomas in the entire year," explained McCune. "Now, we diagnose 30 to 50 in our practice, easily, every year."
“The lifetime risk of someone getting melanoma, a baby who was born in 1981, was 1 in 250," continued Dr. McCune. "Now today, for a female, it's 1 in 55. For a male it's 1 in 34. So those are telling numbers."
McCune said he believes blasts of UV rays from tanning beds are largely to blame for the increase in melanoma.
"You can lay there and especially these high pressure beds, it’s been show that the amount of light you get if you go, say, monthly tanning with a high-pressure UVA bed can be equivalent to a whole year or more of sun outside, just going 12 times, " McCune explained.
“The type of light is in tanning beds is usually something called UVA,” said McCune.
“It's a very long wavelength light which doesn't burn you very much, so you can lay there and be sort of fooled into thinking you're safe because you're not suffering the consequences of a sunburn like you get from the sunlight outside, which is a different kind of mixture of lights… but UVB is the type that burns you,” he explained.
McCune noted excessive sun exposure isn't needed to get vitamin D and that supplements work just fine.
“The amount of sun you'd have to take to get even a fraction of what one supplement of vitamin D would give you is not even a question," said McCune.
Kevin Kagel blamed his skin cancer diagnosis on a bad sunburn he received one day doing yard work shirtless.
“I mean, I never even realized people get sunburned like that. I couldn't lift my arms over my shoulders for days," claimed Kagel.
Kagel has a long fight ahead, but his doctors say his tumors appear to be shrinking.
McCune said it is extremely important to use sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 and reapply often.
But if you really want to be brown, McCune offered spray tans and tanning lotions as good options.
“Our philosophy as Dermatologists is you should wear your sunscreen when you go down to wherever you're going, to try to keep the sun from burning you when you're out,” McCune explained.
“Every time I see a young girl with melanoma, or young guy too, it's really a sad thing,” said McCune.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
A Scripps investigation has uncovered serious concerns about complications from a popular form of birth control.