Patient Warns of Tanning Risks after Beating Melanoma

Chicago – Lindsay Walsh, like many young women, spent a lot of time trying to achieve that perfect bronze glow year round. She’d soak up the sun outdoors during the summer months and would maintain what she referred to as a “healthy looking tan” throughout the year by using indoor tanning beds beginning at age 15. Walsh felt that being tan made her prettier and helped boost her confidence. What she didn’t realize was the negative impact tanning would have on her life until it nearly killed her. At age 21 Walsh was diagnosed with stage three malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

“I loved being tan and would always step up my visits to the salon if I had a big event like prom or a wedding to attend,” said Walsh, a patient at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “I knew a little bit about the risks, but never thought it would happen to me. When I found out I had skin cancer, I was in disbelief. My world came crashing down.”

Melanoma, also called malignant melanoma, kills one person every hour, which translates to more than 8,700 Americans each year. Experts believe that the number of deaths would be significantly lower if more people would take warnings seriously and learn how to examine their skin for signs of skin cancer.“Melanoma is the most common cancer among people in their 20s and early 30s, and is even beginning to strike in the teenage years,” said Jeffrey Wayne, MD, surgical oncologist at Northwestern Memorial. “Lindsay’s story is unfortunately common and demonstrates the dangers of overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or tanning beds. It is extremely important that people take precautions to protect themselves from the sun and avoid tanning beds,” added Wayne who is also an associate medical director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

Anyone can get melanoma but it is most common in people with light skin or those that have had bad sunburns or spent time tanning. Melanoma is caused mostly by UV radiation from the sun, tanning beds and sun lamps but it can also be hereditary.

”Despite startling statistics demonstrating their risks, indoor tanning beds have grown in popularity in recent years and sunbathers continue to expose themselves to dangerous levels of UV light,” said Jill Weinstein, MD, dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group.

According to a recent survey done by the American Academy of Dermatology 80 percent of young women say that they have tanned outside, and 32 percent said they used tanning salons in the past year.

“Teenagers and young women can sometimes be more concerned with their looks than their future health,” said Weinstein. “If this behavior continues, future generations will develop more skin cancers earlier in life and the consequences can be fatal,” added Wayne.

Walsh, now in remission from her cancer, has more than 15 scars on her body from surgeries and tests. “It’s ironic that I was tanning to look better and now I have countless scars on my body,” said Walsh. “I recognize however that the consequences could have been much worse, even fatal. That’s why I share my story to educate women about the risks and consequences associated with tanning. I hope women will learn from my mistakes.”

Weinstein comments that it’s important to take the proper steps to ensure skin safety and recommends the following tips to enjoy the sun safely this summer.

For more information on sun safety or to schedule an appointment, please call 312-926-0779 or click here.

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