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Tanning is risky, directly tied to melanoma

Tanning is risky, directly tied to melanoma


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SALT LAKE CITY — As part of skin cancer awareness month, doctors are urging people to be smart about sun exposure. In a state where tanning booths are very popular, they're also warning about the harmful and even addictive qualities of tanning inside.

We all love the Sun and some people love tanning booths. But a lot of other people, including myself, are living examples that a melanoma scare makes it worth a second look. I survived a bout with melanoma.

Melissa Shepherd said she loved going to a tanning bed as a teenager in Alaska. She doesn't hesitate to call her habit 'addictive'.

"A lot of the addiction for me was just how it made me look, how it made me feel," Shepard said.

It's a common feeling. A lot of people like the warmth and the light, not to mention the bronze skin. But the glow turned to a sinking feeling for her the day she discovered she, like myself, had melanoma - the deadliest skin cancer of all.

"I had to go through a year of chemotherapy-type treatments, surgery," Shepard said. "Going through all of that makes you take a second look at things for sure."

Free skin cancer screening
May 8
Jon and Karen Huntsman-Intermountain Cancer Center at Intermountain Medical Center
5131 South Cottonwood Street (150 West) in Murray
4 to 8 p.m.
Appointments may be made by calling the cancer center at 801-507-3800.

She survived, and in fact now works in the Huntsman Cancer Institute's dermatology department. The staff there don't use the word 'tanorexia' much. But they're as fascinated and shocked as most people, at the sight of the New Jersey woman with the super-tanned skin.

Their concern is that research shows tanning can be addictive, especially in young women. It also shows that tanning is directly tied to melanoma, basil and squamas cell carcinoma.

We see this in especially young women," said Dr. Robert Andtbacka, a dermatologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. "So melanoma is the most common skin cancer for young women age 18 to 29."

Dr. Andtbacka is the surgeon who handled my melanoma at HCI. I'm fine today. I had never been to a tanning booth, but I was still at risk because of fair skin.

Dr. Andtbacka said that tanning is today what cigarette smoking was 50 years ago: A big risk that's also a no-brainer, and that the public is only beginning to widely recognize.

"We're at the same level with tanning as well. As physicians we see this every day," he said. "We do know that this causes cancer. But the public awareness isn't there."

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Richard Piatt

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