FULTON — While many believe that tanning beds, tanning booths and other indoor tanning options are safer than the sun, research indicates that whether from the sunlight or a tanning bed, ultraviolet radiation damages your skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association just one indoor tanning session may increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
According to the NYS Department of Health, every year, about 4,000 New Yorkers are diagnosed with melanoma and nearly 500 die from melanoma. “In Oswego County an average of 28 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year,” said Coordinator of Community Health for Oswego County Opportunities Leanna Cleveland. “Tanning makes your skin age more quickly. Wrinkles and loss of skin firmness tend to appear years earlier in people who tan. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined; 20% percent of Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 and more than two people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.”
According to the NYS Health Department on average there are 247 cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, each year for New Yorkers under the age of 35. Statistics also show that for those ages 20 to 34 melanoma is the fourth most common form of cancer and females ages 20 – 24 are at three times the risk of getting skin cancer than their male counterparts.
For Penny Halstead the risks of indoor tanning turned out to be more than just statistics. Like many of us, long cold winters and gray skies left her feeling a little depressed. When she heard that indoor tanning could lift her spirits she thought she would give it a try.
“I started tanning two to three times a week. I felt great, especially during the winter months when there is very little sunshine. And with an upcoming vacation to Florida I thought it would be good to get a ‘base’ tan before we leave,” she said.
Halstead continued tanning throughout the year. “I enjoyed it. I never went beyond the suggested time limit and never felt I was ‘sun’ burned.” Despite following the required procedures and feeling fine Halstead was quite surprised when she went to her routine visit to her doctor.
“My provider noticed a funny bump on my lower eyelid and referred me to an eye specialist who immediately diagnosed it as skin cancer. I had surgery to remove the cancer, which involved removing a third of my lower eyelid. This eye specialist told me that using a tanning bed, even for just one year, is what caused my skin cancer.”
Relieved to know that the skin cancer was gone Halstead stopped her indoor tanning routine. Eight years later she was shocked to learn that the skin cancer has returned.
“I noticed that a sore on my nose would not heal. After a visit to my dermatologist I was once again diagnosed with skin cancer,” she said. “The cancer was very deep, almost through my left nostril. I went to Boston where I underwent level four Mohs surgery. To remove the cancer the surgery needed to be performed four times testing surrounding tissue they removed each time to make sure it did not contain cancerous cells.” Her skin cancer flared up one more time following year and she had two cancerous spots removed from her legs.
While her indoor tanning days are over Halstead still enjoys the sunshine whenever she can. “I am an avid outdoor person. I love to garden, kayak, and go to the beach. Since my skin cancer I take every precaution when outside. If I’m going to be in the sun for more 15 minutes I apply the proper level sunscreen, wear a hat and sun protective clothing. I’ve been cancer free for the past 18 months and I’m doing everything I can to remain that way!”
Halstead is just one of many examples of the risk of indoor tanning and importance of sun safety. Cancer Prevention in Action, a program of the St. Lawrence Health Initiative administered locally though Oswego County Opportunities, reminds you that when it comes to sun safety and protecting yourself from skin cancer, indoor tanning is not a safe alternative to the sun. Skin cancer can be prevented. Wearing a hat and proper clothing, sunglasses, and ample use of sunscreen can help you be safe in the sun.
Cancer Prevention in Action is a program is administered locally through Oswego County Opportunities. The mission of the St. Lawrence Health Initiative is to increase cancer prevention in Oswego, St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Jefferson counties. For more information on sun safety and avoiding skin cancer contact Leanna Cleveland at 315-592-0827 or visit www.oco.org