Monday, May 28, 2012

Skin Cancer in Women's Magazines

One benefit of going on vacation is that it allows my family to catch up on some reading.  Well, at least for my wife.  I found myself honing my Angry Birds and Words With friends skills more so than reading, but it was relaxing nevertheless.  Still, my wife was kind enough to share some of the more interesting magazine articles…particularly those associated with skin cancer.

One of the rags she buys is Woman’s World Magazine.  This is a typical supermarket tabloid that contains beauty and weight-loss tips as well as other small blub-like articles.  Nothing too in depth…just right for mindless vacation reading.  She shared one such article regarding some of the tricks to prevent skin cancer.  Oddly, applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing wasn’t on the list.  Most of the tips included drinking red wine and eating dark chocolate.  But one section caught my eye as being something contrary to what I’ve read elsewhere:

“Hard to believe, but science proves it: Those of us who spend most of our time indoors are actually at higher risk of skin cancer than folks who have outdoor jobs! Turns out, regular, moderate sun exposure actually protects your skin in two ways: by increasing its production of natural sun block melanin and its production of cancer-fighting vitamin D3, explains Michael Holick, M.D., professor of medicine at Boston University.”

This seemed to support the “base tan” theory which most every dermatologist would state is completely incorrect.  So I contacted my friends at the Melanoma Education Foundation and asked for their opinion.  They responded that Dr. Holick is known for his pro-tanning beliefs and was highly paid ($150,000 a year) for bring a spokesperson/advocate for the Indoor Tanning Association.  It looks like the infamous Dr. Mercola has a buddy.  That fact pretty much says it all.

MEF addressed the so-called facts of this article by stating that people who have indoor jobs tend to not wear sunscreen during these breaks (and during commutes) and thus receive unprotected exposure.  Those who are exposed to the elements all day typically wear sunscreen and protective clothing.  (I’ve noticed many DOT workmen wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and hats even in scorching heat).  Being more protected in the sun has nothing to do with increased melanin (base tan) or vitamin D.

Needless to say, I was disappointed that this well-read magazine had some pretty irresponsible reporting.

My wife later handed me a Ladies Home Journal.  In it was an article by their Health Director, Julie Bain which chronicled her life-long battle with skin cancer.  Notice that I said skin cancer and not melanoma.  This was the eye-opening aspect of this article.

Ms. Bain spent her youthful summers vacationing lake side in Minnesota taking all the precautions that many of us did against the sun…none.  Later in life, she’s paid the price.  While she’s never been diagnosed with melanoma, she’s had as many as seven occurrences of basal cell carcinoma and one instance of squamous cell carcinoma.  If I recall correctly, she’d gone through Mohs surgery at least twice, maybe more.  Regardless, each occurrence caused a scar, and sometimes to disfiguring levels.  Many of the spots occurred on her forehead…not the most discrete place to hide a scar or two or four.

Her article was brave and informative.  Many of us focus on melanoma as the beast…and rightfully so.  This article points out that even if the skin cancer encountered is one of the easy “cut it out” kind, it can be a demon in its own right.

I applaud the Ladies Home Journal for this great article about the consequences of ignoring sun safety (although I was disappointed that it appeared in the back pages).  There’s no online link to the full article, but here’s a link to a shortened version.  I also encourage you to find it from the magazine directly (June 2012 edition).

I condemn the Woman’s World magazine for the disappointing and somewhat irresponsible article which includes sun safety advice from someone on the tanning industry’s payroll.  I would hope that they do a little research on their sources and not assume “Dr.” means “unbiased expert.”

I hope your summer is filled with relaxing moments of reading (or Angry Birds).  But if an article captures your attention, please do a little online research and check the validity of any “facts” that seem contrary to what you’ve learned.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Day At The Beach

My family and I took a much needed vacation to the southern coast of South Carolina this past week.  Even though our vacation unit is only a couple blocks from the beach, we typically spend most of our time at the pool.  Still, it wouldn’t be a trip to the coast withut spending at least one afternoon at the beach.

This year we visited on Thursday…the day before “Don’t Fry Day.”  We visited at 1:00 in the afternoon so that we could rent a beach umbrella and chairs for a cheaper price.  (Yes…we’re frugal).  Although this is during peak sun exposure and the worst time to avoid a burn, I assure you that we were well slathered in sunscreen, hats, protective clothing, and huddled beneath the aforementioned umbrella.  Despite all this, we enjoyed the day as much as anyone around us.  And there were a LOT of people around us.

About 30 yards from us was a gentleman that could very well be Tan Mom’s twin brother.  I thought about taking photos, but didn’t feel right about invading anyone’s vacationing privacy.  Still, the color of this man’s skin was a deep dark brown and he was sound asleep with no evidence of sunscreen around.

Interestingly, there were two women a few yards behind this guy.  They were sitting in the sun with an unopened umbrella between them.  Hmm…maybe someone should have explained that you need to sit UNDER the umbrella?

I was so tempted to speak up about the dangers of sun exposure when my wife reminded me that perhaps the most effective way to get the point across is not through lecture, but to set the example.  So I continued to sit under the umbrella, reading my magazine, and keeping my mouth shut while being sun-safe.  But then something happened that just begged me to speak.

Two girls arrived with small back packs and beach towels and set up camp about 30 feet from us.  What I witnessed for the next 10 to 15 minutes shocked me.  They…applied sunscreen.  They not only rubbed sunscreen lotion on, they APPLIED it…definitely the recommended shot-glass quantity if not more.  They also assisted one another by applying it to the other’s back.  These girls were seriously aware of the need to wear sunscreen, so I just had to ask them why.

As my wife cowered behind her magazine in embarrassment, I approached and introduced myself to the girls and asked what had inspired them to apply sunscreen so thoroughly.  Surprisingly, they didn’t scream “pervert!” and run for the lifeguard, but were very nice to answer my questions.

Kaylee had explained that the two of them visited Mexico the year before.  “We went out on a cloudy day, so I figured there was no need to wear sunscreen.  It turned out, I got burned really bad…I had blisters on my body and my face and it really scared me.  I decided that it wasn’t worth it…the sun can damage the skin so easily and I guess it can cause cancer as well.”

Jess was lighter skinned with hints of red in her hair.  She said, “I’ve never been one who could tan and my dad has always told me to protect my skin.  He had a huge crush on this girl back when he was in high school…she was beautiful and would get tan every summer.  My dad is 50 now and he said he saw this woman recently and that she looked to be 15 years older than him because of the sun damage.  I don’t want to be like that…all wrinkled and old looking before I even get that old.”

I thanked them both and felt rejuvenated in my hope that people WILL get the message.  Kaylee and Jess did...and I'm sure others will.

It’s fun to spend the day at the beach…but you have to learn to respect the sun and protect yourself as well.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Playing the Melanoma Numbers

This weekend’s Powerball Lottery is worth an estimated $80 Million.  Did you buy your ticket yet?  Considering that the odds of selecting the right numbers are less than one in 175 million, I can certainly understand your reluctance to pay good money for a ticket.  But what about a few weeks ago when the MegaMillions was paying out over $800 Million?  I bet that tempted more of you than usual…I know it did me!

Other than higher rewards, what else might get you to pay one or two dollars for a ticket?  What about better odds?  Would you play numbers if the change of winning was one in one million?  That’s about the same as the odds of being killed by lightning.  What about one in a thousand?  A hundred?  Would you play the lottery with the odds of winning being one in fifty?  You’d still have roughly a 98% chance of losing, but I’d be willing to bet (no pun intended) that many of you would run to the local convenience store to play!

Let’s go back to the lightning odds.  When a lightning storm approaches, do you run for cover?  Why?  As I said, the odds of being killed by lightning are one in a million.  Then again, the odds of being merely struck by lightning are around one in half a million.  Still, statistically speaking, you wouldn’t get struck by lightning in a storm…right?  Hmmm…then again, being under a tree or holding a golf club supposedly increases your chance of being struck, doesn’t it?  But do you think that the odds are really all that high?  I’m sure they’re nowhere near as great as one in fifty.  Still, I’m guessing you run for cover despite the odds against being struck.

Did you know that one in fifty Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime?  Yep, those are the same “good” odds as I described above…the same odds that would have you buying lottery tickets or running for cover at the first sound of distant thunder.  One in fifty.  I bet you walked past at least fifty people today…and one of them (maybe you?) will be diagnosed with melanoma.  Still, like I said, there’s a 98% chance of never having this disease.  But what about being “affected?”

Let’s look at some more numbers.  Let’s say the average person has two parents.  Some parents have passed on and some folks have step-parents…so let’s stick with two on average.  Now let’s assume the national average of two kids per household…so that means the average person has one sibling.  Now let’s assume there’s at least one more important loved one…perhaps another sibling, perhaps a spouse, or just a really close friend.  Including the average person, we just created a group of five people.  Ten groups of five people add up to fifty people all together.  One of those fifty will have melanoma at some point.  I might not be a statistician, but I would think that means there’s a one in ten chance that the average person’s group will be affected by melanoma!  Sure, the odds still give you an 90% chance of not being affected, but I’m willing to bet that a one in ten chance of being somehow closely affected by melanoma makes you a bit uncomfortable.

Like the lightning scenario, you can run for cover!  You can wear sunscreen…you can wear protective clothing…you can stay in the shade at the peak of the day…and by all means, avoid the lightning rod known as the tanning salon.  You can lessen the odds of being affected by practicing safe sun…and spreading the word to your loved ones. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

UV Skinz

I don't normally endorse any particular product, but UV Skinz has given me the opportunity to pass on a special offer to you!

In case you've not heard of UV Skinz, they are a company out of Northern California that started in 2005 when Rhonda Sparks lost her husband to melanoma.  She began to bring products to the market to help other families stay safe in the sun.

Right now, during Melanoma Awareness Month, they're giving away free baby swim shirts with every order!  See the photo above.  A pretty cool deal!  In addition, you can get 15% off your order by typing BLOGS15 as the promotional code!  Just go to their website and start browsing!

Let me know your thoughts on their product...I'll share your thought for others to read!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Sun/Water Analogy

Earlier this week, the Today Show on NBC had a segment called “The Truth About Sunless Tanning.”  Within it, Joseph Levy, executive director of Smart Tan, a so-called education institute for the tanning industry, debated the benefits of sunless tanning…i.e., use of a tanning bed.  During the rather heated debate, he stated the following:

“To say that any UV exposure is damaging and therefore should be avoided would be like saying water causes drowning, therefore you should avoid water.  It is an essential element of life…water, air and sun.”

Mr. Levy, your demeanor during the debate tells me that there is no way that one could convince you that tanning beds are a bad choice.  They are bad…but I’ll accept your ignorance.  However, your analogy regarding sunlight and water is most certainly flawed.  In fact, I believe the water analogy supports the anti-tanning initiative much more.

It is true that both sun and water are essential to life.  Without either, all living things would perish.  I have told my own children that the sun is a good thing.  It feels good, it makes plants (and children) grow, and it should not be feared.  The same can be said for water…it’s essential and recreational.  But too much of either can be dangerous.  There are such things as scorching droughts as well as intense floods…both devastating natural disasters brought on by the essentials of life.  But let’s focus on the smaller scale.

The danger regarding water comes when a person enters who is a non-swimmer.  For obvious reasons, this person could drown.  This essential of life can be very dangerous indeed.  So how can a person still enjoy the water?  First of all, he needs to know his own limits.  Can he handle shallow water?  Would it be better to learn to swim?  And what happens if he takes a boat ride?  I think we’d all agree that he should wear a life jacket around deeper water.

Now let’s apply this analogy to the sun.  It only takes a few minutes of sun exposure to start the damage, especially for lighter skin tones.  It’s best to know one’s limits and wear appropriate protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.  But what of those longer days spent enjoying the sun…at the beach, pool, golf course, etc.?  That’s the analogy to deep water, therefore put on the lifejacket…the sunscreen!  Of course, it should be worn all the time, but especially worn (and reapplied every 2 hours!) during excessive sun exposure.

It’s foolish to think that anything is 100% safe.  Yes, there are benefits to the sun and I embrace them as much as anyone else.  There are also dangers…just as there is with water.  Speaking as a former lifeguard, I‘ve witnessed the joys and dangers of both sun and water.  Both need to be respected.

That’s the truth.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thank You Mela-Momma!

Note:  I wrote this piece just prior to learning about Chelsea Price’s interview on Headline News today.  Make no mistake, she’s a true “celebrity of melanoma!”

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would think that someone within the Skin Cancer Foundation created the ultimate public relations coup.  Out of the blue, an unwitting New Jersey tanning addict put skin cancer awareness and anti-tanning campaigns right on page one!  And all of this happened on the first day of Skin Cancer Awareness Month…assuring at least a few days of headline-grabbing stories and discussions.

Patricia Krentcil…otherwise known as the Tan Mom (I prefer Mela-Momma) allegedly took her 6 year old daughter to a tanning salon.  It was reported that the young girl (who is light-skinned with red hair!) was sun burnt and the implication was that the child actually used a tanning bed with her mother.  Both parents deny the allegations, stating that their daughter got too much sun while simply playing outside.  I suppose it’s for the authorities to sort out.

If indeed Mela-Momma is found guilty, not only does she have to answer to her actions, the tanning salon has to explain why they violated New Jersey law which prohibits children under 14 from using tanning devices.  If it’s found that the child never entered a booth or bed, but was in the same room as her mother as she tanned, the establishment still has to answer for their actions.  And if it’s found that the child sat in the lobby as Mela-Momma sat in the rotisserie, the salon is off the hook…sort of.  When a bar serves a patron too many drinks, they’re significantly and legally to blame for allowing the drinker to drive away.  Is a tanning salon guilty of the same if they let an obvious over-tanner continue to bathe in UV radiation?  This offers further confirmation of the Senate findings of the tanning industry’s sleazy actions.

But let’s get back to the anti-hero of our cause.   There have been countless articles and opinion pieces about Mela-Momma.  One good article from MSNBC offers insight to the real damage to skin.  And last night, Dr. Drew devoted half of his talk show to Ms. Krentcil and offered impromptu diagnosis of her addictive behavior and apparent body dysmorphic disorder.  He had another tanner…an attractive girl named Michelle (I think), that seemed to showcase the “real” tanner.  But at the same time, she exhibited her own seemingly addictive comments and really didn’t shed an approving light on tanning at all.  (And of course the more attractive Ms. Chelsea Price also appeared via Skype and made a great positive pitch for sun safety!)

I even had a conversation with my extreme-tanner co-worker today…asking her not to tan as much as Mela-Momma.  She promised that she wouldn’t (the jury is still out on that).

Tanning has taken a big hit.  Mela-Momma’s shoe-polished flesh will be long connected to the act of tanning, and it’ll turn people away.  At the same time, this occurs just as Skin Cancer/Melanoma Awareness Month kicks into gear.

An extreme tanner exposed in May, thus ensuring extended coverage of tanning dangers and skin cancer.  I couldn’t have planned it any better myself!