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I am a cancer surgeon and I specialize in the treatment of melanoma.
For those of you who don’t know, melanoma is typically a cancer of older age – mostly seen in patients over 50. It arises though repeated and prolonged exposure to UV radiation over a lifetime.
Over the past five years I have seen a disturbing phenomenon in my practice - an increased number of teenagers and twenty-somethings with aggressive forms melanoma.
Why is this? Is it because children today are sunbathing more than the previous generations?
I don’t think so. Our children are not slathering on baby oil and laying out with tinfoil trays.
The only reason that I can see for the increased number of melanoma cases in young adults is that they are exposed to high doses of UV radiation.
Where do these high doses of radiation come from? That’s right – tanning beds. There is an up to 12-fold increase in UV radiation from tanning beds when compared to the sun.
Studies have shown that people who started indoor tanning before age 35 have a 60-75% greater risk of developing melanoma.
Since 2003, UV radiation from any source has been listed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance), leading many government agencies to caution against tanning.
Just like UV radiation, tobacco is also a Class 1 carcinogen. We regulate the access our children have to cigarettes and tobacco, so why don’t we regulate UV radiation as well?
Cigarettes cause cancer and other lung and cardiac diseases, but the effects of cigarettes take decades to be seen.
The increased risk of skin cancer from tanning booths is realized in years – not decades. I would offer that UV radiation is more lethal to young adults than cigarettes are.
Children don’t know what they don’t know. It is up to us as responsible adults, parents, health care providers, and legislators to educate our children and limit the ability of our youth to gain access to this carcinogen.
Our objective is not to control the children; our objective is to protect them.
We are not here to tell parents how to raise their children; we are here to educate and provide structure.
Why wouldn’t we want to pass legislation that restricts minors from using tanning beds?
Perhaps we are told that the loss of revenue to the companies is not justified. Perhaps we are told that government is too big and shouldn’t be involved with this decision. But we agree that the government should regulate access to tobacco and alcohol.
Opponents may say that the number of deaths from adolescent tanning is only a fraction of the total number of deaths from melanoma. Let’s just say for argument sake that there will only be 1 death from underage tanning. What if that one death was YOUR daughter, your sister, or your son…wouldn’t you think otherwise? Why do we need to put more children at risk of death? Just so they can have a tan on prom night? There are no real health benefits to tanning despite what you might have heard.
If adolescents could see what is involved in treating a patient with a melanoma, perhaps they would think twice. Scars are usually 4-6 inches long. Swelling of the affected limb can be disabling. Up to three years of immunotherapy or targeted therapy and sometimes chemotherapy. Perhaps then they would think twice.
Let’s do our duty in protecting our children. Support the legislation to ban tanning bed use for children less than 18 year old.