Now that winter is arriving in Utah, it won't be long before some people begin thinking about how to maintain that "summer look" through winter. Most likely they'll turn their attention to the dozens of indoor tanning centers that seek to bring back that summer look. But are they really safe? Pictured upper left is a sampling of cancerous moles.
According to a KTVX Channel 4 investigative report aired on November 12th, 2007, some experts claim that using a tanning bed more than once a month increases your chance of getting skin cancer by 55 percent, a scary statistic considering Utah ranks in the top five states for cases of deadly melanoma. Click HERE to watch news video.
KTVX presented the case of Maryann Gerber, who used tanning beds sporadically for the typical, relatively harmless vanity reasons...until she discovered a mole. Here's her story:
Twenty-four year old Maryann Gerber turned to tanning beds to maintain her year round glow. “It was once, twice a month, maybe…once twice a month in six months, it depended.” That is… until a fateful day when the same vanity that brought her to the tanning bed led her down a life changing path. “I had this tiny little tiny mole...I went in for vanity reasons alone to get this mole taken off and when I did, that's when I found out.”
Maryann was diagnosed with stage three melanoma. Even so, the bad news fell on deaf ears. Maryann’s mother, Mary Catherine Fowler, says her daughter told the doctor she was more worried about the removal process leaving a disfiguring scar. Fowler said, “He looked right into her eyes and said, ‘You know we're trying to save your life here...I'm not really worried about the scar.’” Maryann said when she first looked in the mirror post-surgery, she didn’t even recognize herself, “Hunchback of Notre dame is what I saw, just hideous, hideous person...and I didn't know what to think.”
It wasn't until she read the surgeon's report that Maryann finally grasped the gravity of her diagnosis. She relays, “In the report, we found her jugular vein so we moved it to the side so we wouldn't hit it.”
One of the experts who takes a dim view of tanning beds is Dr. Dirk Noyes of the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Dr. Noyes says the rays from tanning beds are 10 times stronger than the sun. He sees 15 new melanoma cases he sees each week, many a result of that sought after "glow". Dr. Noyes says, “We know tanning or ultraviolet rays exposure is the most common cause why people get melanoma.” And Maryann chimes in, “A tanning bed is 90 percent UVA rays which literally go under your skin and mutate your DNA, so you're mutating your DNA yet you have this fabulous glow and you think I'm safe.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation agrees with Dr. Noyes. They cite a 1994 Swedish study which revealed that women 18-30 years old who visited tanning parlors 10 times or more a year had seven times greater incidence of melanoma than women who did not use tanning salons. They cite another study in which people exposed to 10 full-body tanning salon sessions had a significant increase in skin repair proteins typically associated with sun damage, indicating that ultraviolet (UV) radiation from indoor tanning is as dangerous as UV from the sun. And finally, in 2002, a study from Dartmouth Medical School found that tanning device users had 2.5 times the risk of squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times the risk of basal cell carcinoma.
The Foundation claims that two of the tanning industry's primary arguments defending tanning beds are misleading. The industry claims that since melanoma is mainly caused by sunburn, "controlled" tanning helps prevent melanoma by building up the protective pigment melanin. They also claim that UV exposure makes the skin produce vitamin D, which helps prevent breast, prostate and colon cancer, as well as other diseases.
However, many medical experts refute the industry's primary arguments. They point out that our diet (especially vitamin D-rich foods such as dairy products and salmon) generally provides all the vitamin D we need. Furthermore, tanning to increase melanin is counterproductive. Tanning, like burning, causes genetic damage to skin cells. "You can't protect the skin by damaging it," said James M. Spencer, MD, director of dermatologic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "Tanning not only increases the risk for melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, but accelerates skin aging." [Ed. Note: I can vouch for this. I've seen 40-year old career sun worshippers who had 60-year old skin.]
But the tanning industry still claims that overxposure fears are exaggerated. The Sun Tanning for Education Association argues, "UVA-only style lamps are in only a small fraction of the total amount of sun beds and booths in the US." http://www.tanningtruth.com/ posts, “The risks associated with UV overexposure are manageable for anyone who has the ability to develop a tan."
In some good news for concerned parents, Utah recently passed legislation stating teens under 18 need parental consent to use a tanning bed. Also, doctors at Huntsman say there are some warning signs that may indicate a cancerous mole. Dr. Noyes calls them the “ABC’s of Early Mole Detection.”
A stands for asymmetry. Does the mole have an odd shape?
B stands for borders. Do the borders look irregular?
C stands for color. Look for a 'change' in color.
D stands for diameter. Moles should 'not' be larger than a pencil eraser.
E a newly added letter, stands for evolution. Has the mole changed form?
The decision to use a tanning bed is a personal decision. I personally would not waste my time or money on them, but it's not a moral issue. Look for experts to use the medical evidence as protective cover to mount a campaign against them, just like they did with smokers.