Thursday, February 9, 2012

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

There has been a lot of news and discussion lately about tanning beds.  A congressional report came out stating that tanning salons were being deceptive with their “facts” in an effort to bring in new clients.  Several states have introduced legislation to ban or severely limit tanning bed use.  And New South Wales in Australia made news when they voted to ban the beds for minors.  It seems that the beginning of the end of tanning beds is near.  But let’s not forget those who were not affected by the sun or tanning salons.
video of a young lady, Kelsey, who has had melanoma since she was 14 was recently posted on YouTube.  At age 19, she’s been through it all…and her fight continues.  What’s interesting in her first video is that she states that she stayed away from tanning beds.  Unfortunately, she still has a higher risk for melanoma.  She’s a red head, therefore is two to three times more likely than others to be diagnosed with melanoma.
The Melanoma Education Foundation website posts a list of high risk factors that have nothing to do with tanning beds, known as Uncontrollable Risk Factors.  Essentially, if one of these factors applies to you, you have an increased chance of melanoma.  I present the list below, with the associated “risk multiplier” for each factor.  Some of the increases are startling:
Risk Factor                                                                         Risk Multiplier
50 or more normal moles                                                   2x – 4x
One atypical mole                                                              2x
Red/blonde hair, blue/green eyes,                                    2x – 3x
and or light complexion
Heavily freckled with no atypical moles                            3x
Personal history of non-melanoma cancer                        3x – 5x
Undergoing immunosuppressant treatment                      4x – 8x
or medication
Ten or more atypical moles                                               12x – 14x
Heavily freckled with many atypical moles                       20x
but no family history of melanoma
Personal history of melanoma                                           9x – 28x
Two immediate family members (parent,                         100%
child, or sibling) have had melanoma
Many atypical moles and one immediate                         100%
family member has had melanoma
Having certain skin diseases such as lupus                     Very High
or xeroderma pigmentosum
Taking a photosensitizing medication                              Unknown
or treatment

What astounded me most were the two factors that state there is a 100% likelihood of being diagnosed with melanoma.  I thought for sure I misunderstood that, so I contacted the MEF directly.  Steve Fine, the president of MEF emailed me to confirm that the risk is indeed 100%.  Wow.
What this tells us is that, even if you don’t tan, you need to get checked regularly…especially if you have one of these higher risk factors.  Sure, tanning and sunburns contribute to skin cancer and melanoma (see their site for “Controllable Risk Factors”) but the beast can still affect you without the aid of UV rays.
Just ask Kelsey.


  1. Just ask me too. I'm a stage 3 melanoma warrior, never stepped a toe in a tanning bed, but I did grow up on Florida beaches and got sunburned plenty before 18. I'm fair skinned, many moles, some freckles, some family with red hair, mine is dark blonde, two immediate family members with basal cell. I think my Melanoma is a combination of sunburns and genetics...

  2. I am stunned, stunned, stunned about the 2 100% factors. I knew the risk was high, but 100%? Both of my sisters have recently had atypical moles removed....

    I will be sharing this.

    Thank you, Al!!!

  3. I shared this with my brother. DOUBT he will listen to me because he's so "nothing will ever hurt me," but he's quite moley and I think he needs to take a trip to the derm.