Friday, January 3, 2014

"We all live in fear of cancer, but to be told you have skin cancer was terrifying." Stephanie Beacham

Recently, I came across an article that mentioned that Florida has more tanning salons than it does McDonald's Restaurants. This is believed to be a major factor in Florida having the second highest rate of melanoma cancer diagnoses in the country.

The article is here:

Out of curiousity I looked up the CDC's information on skin cancer rates by state and was very surprised to see that as of 2010 New Hampshire also had one of the highest rates of melanoma skin cancer cases in the country.


I can't help but think that more needs to be done to spread the information about how very dangerous it is to not protect our skin from the sun. Even here in NH.  Especially something so preventable.

Melanoma cancer is the deadliest form of skin cancer and the hardest to treat.  Among young women, it is also the most commonly diagnosed form of skin cancer.  Some sources (see the above links) state that diagnoses of melanoma has risen 800% in young women over the last 40 years.  

Eight hundred percent.  That's an insane statistical increase. 

Why is it so high?  How did this happen?  

Well, the second question is easy to answer.   Tanning.   UV damages the skin and causes cancer, be it indoor tanning or outdoor.  

The first, is a bit harder and has more to do with society and the addictive nature of tanning.   

You can thank Coco Chanel and the rest of the socialites of the 1920s who made tanning fashionable years ago.   Add the generational cultural desire to seem well off enough to just laze about in the sun with the rise of technology (indoor UV lamps) and a desire to make money (it's now a $5B dollar industry annually in the US) and you have a pretty clear picture of the most likely cause.

What needs to happen, and largely isn't, is the education and public awareness of how risky it is to not protect your skin.  Current statistics show that 1 out of every 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their live.  Twenty percent. 

Breast cancer rates are lower (roughly 1 in 8 or 12.4%) and the awareness factor is much, much higher.     Something is wrong with this picture.  Very very wrong. 

There are public awareness campaigns about the risks of smoking and how to check for breast and testicular cancer, yet there is very little public awareness about the risks of skin cancer.  Most doctors don't even mention it to their patients, yet every single one will ask about smoking and drinking habits. 

Sure, most people "know" that the sunburns can cause cancer; just like most people "know" that they really should floss once a day.   You know about it, know your really should do it, but never quite get around to it.   

Then there's the growing trend to accept the skin's "natural look" as being beautiful and natural features of life.  I'm talking specifically about wrinkles and freckling, by the way.    I refuse too accept this way of looking at aging. 

Grey hair, yes.  Grey hair is a natural sign of aging that has to do with the body's endocrine cycle slowing down as we age and how the body produces melanin.   Some of this is genetic (when the greys start to appear) some is just simply getting older.  I've been greying since my early 20s and at some point I will allow my hair to go completely grey/white to see if I like it that shade.   

However, when I state that I refuse to tan, I often get pitying looks or "but you'd look good with a tan!"   

I've also been insulted and called intolerant because I've flat out stated in public that wrinkles and freckles are not beautiful signs of a life well lived but rather damage that could have been prevented.   Well over 75% of all signs of aging are caused by the sun.   Signs of aging= wrinkles and freckles.     

Do wrinkles happen as we age?  Yes.  Do they have to happen as rapidly as they typically do in modern society?  No. Are babies born with either?  No.  

I am currently working for my state's liquor commission (better hours, steady paycheck and less drama than the salon) and am fairly good at judging age.  I have to be since we have to gauge if a client is under 30 and if they need to show an ID to purchase alcohol.   It helps that as a licensed cosmetologist and esthetician I am familiar with the signs of aging and when they should appear.  Yet, I'm noticing more and more tanned mid-20 year olds who look older than I do based on a visual inspection of their face.  

It's anecdotal sure, but the numbers back this up.   Tanning makes you look older faster those who shun the sun  
Personally, I cultivate my white skin and keep a close eye on the freckles and moles that I do have.   I am not perfect and have forgotten to put on sunscreen, but I don't ignore the risks and keep a close eye on my skin.  

The same care that we take in preventing other cancers needs to be applied to our skin.   It's so easy to do and the cost of not doing so is pretty steep. 

Here are the 2008 stated survival rates for Melanoma:

Some more facts about skin cancers:

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