Danielle Elkins: Don’t forget about the risks of skin cancer | CraigDailyPress.com

Danielle Elkins: Don’t forget about the risks of skin cancer

Danielle Elkins

Craig residents, I interrupt your summer activities to remind you of the dangers of tanning beds and unprotected fun in the sun.

You may think you've heard enough about skin cancer or that you aren't at high risk for it, but its prevalence can't be stressed enough. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation says "over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined."

We all enjoy soaking up some Vitamin D while partaking in our favorite summertime activities, and some of us feel more attractive with a nice tan, but don't put yourself at risk of a life-threatening disease for a bronze glow when you can achieve it safely.

When I was younger, it was a trend among young women in my hometown to get a good "base tan" during spring by using a tanning bed. I couldn't have imagined going into summer without a tan — I mean, come on!

Once summer rolled around, I'd be plenty bronze, but I could still be found lounging by the pool in my spare time working on my tan and stopping by the tanning salon a few times a week. This was part of my summer routine well into college, until skin cancer struck in my family.

My aunt, Jenn, was in her late thirties and the mother of three small children when she found out the black mole on her right arm was melanoma. Two surgeries left her temporarily cancer free, but with several stitches, a deep scar, and a deadly infection that landed her in the hospital for a month.

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The nightmare didn't end there, though. The melanoma has come back twice in the past five years, leaving Jenn with another daily reminder — the scars from 52 stitches in her thigh — of why tanning beds and excessive sun exposure are dangerous. She now visits her dermatologist every six months for a skin check because melanoma is an aggressive cancer and must be treated early so it doesn't spread to other organs.

In addition to my aunt, skin cancer in the form of squamous cell carcinoma affected my grandfather a few years ago, resulting in the loss of a piece of his ear.

Now, I'm much more cautious when it comes to how I get a tan.

Since her use of tanning beds in college likely contributed to my aunt's struggle with skin cancer, I gave them up after her first bout with melanoma — something I wouldn't have dreamt of doing before I saw the aggressive nature of skin cancer first hand. But as it turns out, spray tans look great!

According to the SCF, "[m]ore people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking." And, "[i]ndividuals who have used tanning beds 10 or more times in their lives have a 34 percent increased risk of developing melanoma compared to those who have never used tanning beds."

But indoor tanning isn't the only way to put yourself at risk of skin cancer.

My grandfather never used a tanning bed, but he also never applied sunscreen before working in his garden, leaving skin not covered by clothing unprotected from the sun's rays. He assumed that since he has a dark complexion and doesn't burn easily he would be fine, but people with dark skin tones are still susceptible to skin cancer.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime, says the SCF. The foundation's website is full of information about how to protect your skin, check yourself for abnormal moles, read a sunscreen label and take extra precaution when your children are exposed to the sun, since their skin is especially sensitive.

Don't let yourself or a loved one be the one in five who gets skin cancer. Educate yourself so you can protect yourself, and then spread the word.

Happy summer!