Lessons on topics like sunburn, smoking and HPV can change the trajectory of their lives.

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It’s no secret that teens have a hard time asking questions.  But when it comes to cancer, we need to give them the answers they need, even if they don’t ask, then give them a safe space where they can follow up with new questions.

Teenagers need to know that one sunburn under the age of 18 doubles their chances of melanoma. They need to know that if they don’t begin to smoke before the age of 18 they likely will not smoke. And they need to know that the HPV vaccine can eliminate many cancers for boys and girls. These simple lessons can change the trajectory of their lives.

Cancer Pathways has educated more than 72,000 teens in 97 high schools in 12 counties about skin cancer, lung cancer and the HPV vaccine. We talked to experts in their Cancer Happens Teen Education program to get some tips on how to reach teens on these important topics.


Doctors are starting the conversation with parents of 6-month-olds about ways to protect their skin from sun exposure to reduce the risk for skin cancer. SPF50 at all times is advised.

Melanoma is the second-most common cancer for teens and young adults.

Just one trip to a tanning bed increases your risk of melanoma by 74 percent. Despite this, 1.6 million teens in America are using tanning beds.


The FDA is currently not regulating vaping. The rate of vaping among youth has tripled in the last 5 years. Many teens wrongly believe vaping is a safer alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes.

Marijuana smoke contains the same tar element as tobacco smoke. Many teens and young adults are not aware of this risk.


The HPV vaccination is 97 percent effective in preventing the diseases caused by HPV. Parents should talk to their health care providers about getting this vaccine for their sons and daughters.

In 2014, about 57 percent of girls but only 35 percent of boys had been vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Cancer Pathways is the leader in cancer education. We promote community awareness of cancer prevention and education.  Learn about our programs, including our teen writing contest and summer camps for kids with a cancer diagnosis in the family at www.cancerpathways.org.