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Filed under In-Depth, Lifestyles

Tanning can lead to cancer

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Being a blond-haired, blue-eyed bathing beauty in the ‘70s was all the rage, and Administrative Registrar Sue Cathell can attest to that.

“When I was a teenager in the 70s, my girlfriends and I would lay out in the sun and fry.  Having blond hair and blue eyes, my skin would burn to the point of blistering,” Cathell said.

When Cathell was a teenager, there weren’t any warnings against how damaging UV rays are to the skin. “I did not see any immediate effects of the tanning on my skin other than the lovely, burnt brown color. However, I was ignorant to what that golden hue on my skin actually was – skin that had sustained an injury,” Cathell said.

On Oct. 31, 2011, Cathell got the phone call confirming that the “thing” her doctor had removed from her face was malignant melanoma. “I remember standing in my living room, listening to the doctor . . . thinking ‘Whoa, no wait a minute, this happens to other people, not me,’” Cathell said.

The American Melanoma Foundation (AMF) states that melanoma is “the most serious form of skin cancer.” Melanoma begins with “the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing tanning cells.”

In February of 1996, Cathell’s husband died of brain cancer, so she had “an intense need to ‘look healthy’ in the months following his death. She did so by going to tanning bed salons. My rationalization back then was ‘Well, I just need to feel good about myself,’ and ‘If I just go for a few months, it won’t have any negative effect on my skin,’” Cathell said.

While there isn’t any diagnostic test that can determine if a person develops melanoma because of UV ray exposure, Cathell is “convinced that since my melanoma was on my face, it was a direct result of burning and tanning.”

Sophomore Lindsey McCumber doesn’t have any desire to go tanning. “People always compliment me on my fair skin, so I accept that I’m pale. I like being pale because I want to look natural,” McCumber said.

Senior Jackie Mooney feels the opposite about tanning, however. “I personally think I look better tan,” Mooney said.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), “sun and indoor tanning are the leading causes of skin cancer.”

As for melanoma specifically, the AAD says that people with fair, sun-sensitive skin or lots of moles have a much higher risk of developing melanoma.

“Research shows that indoor tanning increases a person’s melanoma risk by 75 percent,” according to the AAD. Because Cathell has fair skin and went tanning, her risk was greatly increased.

After Cathell’s pathology report came back as Stage I melanoma, her tumor was reviewed by Hopkins’ Tumor Board. During Stage I melanoma, the cancer begins the vertical invasion of the skin, but not of the lymph nodes or organs.

“People with Stage I melanoma have a five year survival rate of approximately 92 percent and a 10 year survival rate of approximately 86 percent. I now have survival rates attached to my life that determines the likelihood that I will die from melanoma in the next five or 10 years,” Cathell said.

Cathell did not need to have a lymph node biopsy because the original tumor site was on her face and not near her neck, which “is a complex area and there are risks involved in just operating on that area,” Cathell said.

Even though Cathell had surgery to remove the tumor, she still has to remain vigilant about the recovery progress. “I will need to monitor my lymph nodes on a daily basis and investigate any kind of change. I will need to go to Hopkins for follow-up appointments every three months for the next two years,” Cathell said. She caught her malignant melanoma early enough for her treatment to be successful.

McCumber is aware of the harm that tanning can cause. “People who go tanning are taking such big risks…people should embrace what they look like naturally, especially since tanning is harmful,” McCumber said.

Mooney also realizes there are risks with tanning. “I have always been worried about the risks, but I also have those risks when I go to the beach or pool. You just have to be careful and always wear protection. I don’t tan my face when I go in a tanning bed, since I know my face is very sensitive,” Mooney said.

“UV ray exposure will definitely cause prematurely wrinkled, leathery skin. Today, the skin on my arms and legs is like leather. Frankly, it’s disgusting. I have a significant number of ‘old age spots’ even though I’m only in my early fifties,” Cathell said.

Applying sunscreen to all exposed skin even on cloudy days is imperative, according to the MRF. To keep skin healthy, wear protective clothing, seek shade between the sun’s peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and be aware of medications increasing skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.

“I totally appreciate the desire to have color. I loved how I looked with a tan. Please, please, please, get that color through spray tanning or the much-improved lotion products that are available today. It is not worth the price you pay later in life,” Cathell said.

Stephanie Meadocroft is a Lifestyles Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.

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