Melanoma Awareness and Capital Hill

Summer is upon us!  The beach!  The rays! Folks are hitting the tanning beds.   I can remember baby oil sunbathing, the introduction of tanning beds in the 70s, and beauty being judged on your ability to glow with shades of bronze.  We’ve learned a lot about sun safety over the years.

Knowing tanning beds were dangerous, I begged my daughter to reconsider.  She was in college and ultimately it was her choice.  She loved the way it made her feel emotionally and the look–she felt beautiful.  I would call her a moderate tanner in the summer months for about two summers.  It all came to a stop when she was in nursing school attending a class on the A-B-C-D-E’s of cancer.  They were practicing body checks, and she discovered a few places that made her question.  She went to her primary care and was diagnosed with Melanoma.

Her doctors believe strongly that her tanning bed use was the cause of her early diagnosis.  We went through major surgery and an emotional time of uncertainty.  For the rest of her life, she has to be seen by a dermatologist for full body checks every 3-6 months.  I was shocked by how many young adults were being diagnosed and deaths of those in their prime because of tanning and Melanoma.

The importance of catching Melanoma in its first stages is imperative.  If a patient is diagnosed with stage 3 or 4, your chance of survival is very slim.  Early detection can save your life.  It saved my daughter’s life.  I stand amazed at how her early detection and diagnosis came about.  She had no other symptoms, and the area she questioned really did not look like anything atypical.

FACTS about Melanoma

  • The incidence of people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic group, soaring by 50 percent in women since 1980.
  • In ages 15 – 29, melanoma is the second most common cancer.
  • The lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 1 in 50 for whites, 1 in 1,000 for African-Americans, and 1 in 200 for Hispanics.
  • The majority of melanoma is caused by exposure to UV light and sunlight.
  • Exposure to tanning beds before age 30 increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent, and younger people who regularly use tanning beds are eight times more likely to develop melanoma than people who have never used them.  OCCASIONAL USE OF TANNING BEDS triples their chances.
  • The World Health Organization’s International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified tanning devices into the highest cancer risk category (carcinogenic to humans–the same as arsenic and mustard gas).

Currently the FDA categorizes a tanning bed as a Class I medical device–the same as a tongue depressor.  How can the IARC reclassify tanning devices as the highest cancer risk category, yet the FDA remain at a Class I?  The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) is advocating for the FDA to reconsider and classify tanning devices as a Class II.  This will insure stricter policies for informing consumers about the risks associated with tanning beds.  Some states, like California and Vermont, have banned tanning for minors!  The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) and it’s volunteers are passionate about seeing this ban come from the Federal level so that all states will ban tanning beds for minors.MRF's Third Annual Legislative Hill Day

My daughter and I work as volunteers for the MRF to help advocate for these policy changes.  On May 14, 2013, we traveled to Capital Hill and met with Representative Forbes and Senator Kaine’s offices to seek support on these vital changes as well as more support in the area of research.  There are very little treatment options that are successful in treating stage 3 and 4 of Melanoma.

There are so many myths out there about the sun and tanning.  For example, the famous “base tan” at the tanning bed, or I’m dark-skinned, or it’s an old person’s concern.  There was a beautiful African-American woman in her 20’s who was a survivor of Melanoma advocating with us on Capital Hill.  Her platform was to educate people of color to make sure they are aware of the dangers of Melanoma and the importance of yearly checkups and skin checks.  She has life long disabilities from her treatments due to Melanoma.  Tanning bed facilities promote tanning beds as a safe way to tan–an alternative to the sun.  Actually, tanning beds are more dangerous!

The younger you were when the sun exposure took place the more concerning.  If you are a parent, it’s your parental responsibility to make sure your children are safe from sun exposure.

This was our third year advocating.  It takes time, but we are passionate about the needed changes.  If you would like to check out my daughter’s story and read up on more facts and information please go to:

http://www.melanoma.org/community/patient-stories/victoria-hebb

Share it with someone who thinks she/he needs to have a tan to be beautiful or handsome.  She is willing to share her story.  She has presented for school events.

A study from Harvard shared that tanning is so addictive because it releases endorphins that help you relax and “feel good”.  This 5 billion dollar a year business markets our young people for activities such as prom, beach week, and back to school.  This naturally addicting activity is deadly.

Take the time to advocate and get involved!  The MRF website will show you how and answer any questions.  They are more than willing to help you advocate in your area with needed resources and fact sheets: http://www.melanoma.org/

If you would like more resources on how to check your skin at home:

http://www.melanoma.org/learn-more/melanoma-101/abcdes-melanoma

https://patienteducation.osumc.edu/Documents/melano.pdf

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