Friday, December 18, 2015

FDA Proposal and the Need for Continued Education on Melanoma Awareness

Today, December 18, 2015, the Federal Drug Administration announced a proposal of new rules that would ban anyone under 18 from using tanning beds or tanning booths.  In addition, they would require that tanning facilities obtain a client’s signature that he/she acknowledges the risk to one’s health when using such devices.  They also propose that all tanning devices be labeled with a warning that UV radiation can cause skin cancer, skin burns, premature skin aging, and eye damage (both short- and long-term).  This is an effort by the FDA to “improve consumers’ understanding of the risks related to UV radiation exposure.” 1 

The primary resource for the FDA’s decision is a 2012 publication by the British Medical Journal (“Cutaneous Melanoma Attributable to Sunbed Use: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”) which concludes that “sunbed use is associated with a significant increase in risk of melanoma.  This risk increases with number of sunbed sessions and with initial usage at a young age (<35 years).  The cancerous damage associated with sunbed use is substantial and could be avoided by strict regulations.”2  The study cites well-documented statistics such as tanning beds may emit 10-15 times stronger UV radiation that the sun, UV radiation is classified as a carcinogen, and tanning bed use results in a 75% increase in risk of melanoma (from 40% to 228%) when indoor tanning starts during adolescence or young adulthood.   

The public (including up to 19,000 tanning salons) has 90 days to share comment on the proposal.

This is indeed a great day in the fight against skin cancer and melanoma.  For years, the FDA has been asked to take more action against the use of tanning beds.  Citing the administration’s bans and warnings on tobacco use, the argument was made that more cases of cancer were caused by tanning beds than cases of lung cancer caused by cigarettes.  Today’s action by the FDA is a long time coming.

But this does not close the book on skin cancer prevention.  While there will be harsher warning labels attached to the equipment, the age restrictions apply only to facilities that offer tanning services, such as tanning salons and “health” clubs.  The restrictions do not apply to personal tanning beds.  Additionally, once an individual reaches the age of 18, tanning bed use will be allowed, although the FDA proposal requires disclosure of health risks before allowing an individual to use such a device.  The only real weapon against such use will be in public education.

There are efforts and organizations that are devoted to educating the public on the risks of UV radiation, both from tanning devices and from the sun.  One such organization is the Melanoma Education Initiative.  Founded in 2011, the MEI has been raising awareness about the dangers of melanoma by visiting middle schools with an interactive presentation, visiting high schools and colleges with harder-hitting presentations including first-hand and graphic accounts of melanoma, distributing educational material at community health fairs, and participating in health and wellness events for companies and organizations.

When asked why founder Beth Mancini didn’t just join forces with existing organizations such as the Melanoma Research Foundation, AIM at Melanoma, or others, she responded that “many organizations out there raise money for research which will benefit patients down the road, but we wanted to save lives in a more immediate way by educating people about early detection and prevention. We couldn't find an organization … educating in the way we wanted to, thus, Melanoma Education Initiative was born.”  The MEI was founded and continues advocating near Akron, OH, however Beth. Mancini and her family now reside in North Carolina.  She hopes to expand the MEI efforts within the Tarheel State and beyond.

Much like the aggressive anti-tobacco “truth” campaign to curb youth smoking in the US, the MEI and other organizations hope to equally educate teens and young adults about the dangers of UV radiation.  I encourage you to offer your support to the MEI, or any such educational group in your area as they are in desperate need of volunteers.  While today’s FDA announcement is a red-letter date in skin cancer awareness, the real work of education the public needs to continue.

For more information on the Melanoma Education Initiative, visit their website at  You can also contact Beth Mancini directly at

  1.          DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES; Food and Drug Administration; 21 CFR Parts 1002 and 1040 [Docket No. FDA-1998-N-0880 (formerly 1998N-1170)] RIN 0910-AG30 Sunlamp Products; Proposed Amendment to Performance Standard.
  2.           Boniol, M., P. Autier, P. Boyle, and S. Gandini, “Cutaneous Melanoma Attributable to Sunbed Use: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” British Medical Journal, 345:e8503, December 2012.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Jimmy Carter's Cancer and a Guilty Thought

I had a thought this morning for which I’ve felt a bit guilty all day. 

As I was getting ready for work, I saw the story on television where former President Jimmy Carter was going to share more details about his cancer later in the day.  I couldn’t recall such an event before regarding cancer.  Usually, one announced their cancer diagnosis right away…there was no waiting for an announcement of the specific details later.  “Steven Jobs announces that he has pancreatic cancer.”  “Shannon Doherty reveals breast cancer diagnosis.” “Jimmy Carter has….cancer to be revealed next week.”

I wondered what type of cancer he might have, and it occurred to me that whichever cancer he has will get a real boost in awareness and publicity.  I stopped short of it, but I came damned close to wishing that President Carter would announce that he has melanoma.

All of you should know that I would never ever wish cancer, especially melanoma on any person…not even my worst enemy.  Still, there’s always been this near desperation to have a celebrity representative for “our” cancer.  Bob Marley has been our go-to guy…the perfect example of how melanoma can attack the young and those with darker skin.  However, we still lacked a mainstream face, and don’t think that we didn’t search for one.  Remember how we all shared that Hugh Jackman had skin cancer?  Sure, it was basal cell carcinoma (BCC), but it was skin cancer and a celebrity was talking about it.  We were so “happy.”  And yet, none of us are really ever happy for anyone diagnosed with cancer, even BCC.

As it turns out, Jimmy Carter did indeed announce that he has melanoma that has metastasized to his brain and liver.  I feel awful for him and his family.  While there have been many who have survived a Stage IV melanoma diagnosis, the survival rate is still only 15%.  Many have beaten the odds.  More have not.  This includes my brother Jeff.

It was 5 years ago…almost to the day….that my brother announced that he had Stage IV melanoma that had metastasized to his brain and lungs.  I recall talking to him and he stated how he actually felt quite healthy.  He had plans to go to work for a few months and take some time off whenever the treatments made him feel sick.  He simply couldn’t believe he had cancer, especially cancer in his brain.  Less than a month later, I visited him and he could no longer go to work.  He needed a cane to walk.  His memory and brain functions were diminishing.  He, frankly, looked like he had cancer.  Two months after that, he was gone.

While the prognosis remains dim, President Carter has a much better shot at survival than did my brother.   He is being treated with an immunotherapy drug called Keytruda.   This and several other drugs simply didn’t exist five years ago.  Amazing research has occurred.  However, what remains relatively low on the radar is awareness about melanoma.

The public continues to see melanoma as just another skin cancer.  Just like Hugh Jackman’s BCC, many people think that melanoma can be cut out and all that remains is a large bandage on the nose.  This is simply not the case with melanoma.  As with Mr. Carter, melanoma can form inconspicuously on the skin and spread to other parts of the body if it remains undetected.  It can spread to the liver, the lungs, the brain…anywhere!  It can start anywhere on the skin, including places that never see the sun.  (Yes, even “those” places).  It can start in your eyes or in your mouth.  It is simply one of the nastiest and sneakiest cancers there is.  But make no mistake, no matter where it might occur, it’s still melanoma.

One of my good friends and fellow melanoma awareness advocates (Respect the Rays) posted the following on Facebook today:

I really hope the media starts calling Jimmy Carter’s cancer diagnosis what is it…melanoma.  It’s not liver cancer…or brain cancer.  It’s melanoma that has spread (metastasized) to his liver and brain.”

It’s a common misconception that melanoma in the brain is brain cancer, or that melanoma in the lungs is lung cancer.  It’s not.  It’s melanoma.  Even my brother had a tough time grasping that.  

When I last saw Jeff, we were playing cards.  When he lost the game, he joking said to me, “yeah…big deal that you beat a guy with brain cancer!”  He always looked at the lighter side of life.  Another time, we were discussing various cancer awareness colors.  “Black is for melanoma, white is for lung cancer, and gray is for brain cancer!  Could I have three more boring colors?”  Again, I loved Jeff's humor, but the fact is, he had only one cancer, and that was melanoma. 

The same is true of President Carter.  He has melanoma.  As a result, the world might learn a little about the disease.  And despite my early morning thought, I really wish he didn’t have it. 

I wish there was no melanoma at all.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sun Protection and Kids in School

Spring is coming to an end soon and most schools are about to close for the summer.  This also marks the time of year when schools hold their annual field day, a celebration of fun and physical fitness.  Unfortunately, it seems that every year presents at least one story where a child is severely sun burned during the outdoor activity because of the school’s policy of no sunscreen application.

Most schools, it seems, encourages the parents to apply sunscreen on the child before they arrive.  They do not allow the child to administer their own sunscreen (at least at the elementary school level) because it’s considered the same as a controlled medication.  In short, the school district does not want to accept responsibility should a child share the lotion (sunscreen or otherwise) in case the second child could be allergic.  In some cases, such as when kids have a food allergy, the medicine (epipen in this case) is kept in the school nurse’s station and can only be administered by a trained individual.  The same apparently holds true for other medications, including lotions.  Including sunscreen.

Another reason for children getting sun burns during field day is that kids are often not allowed to wear hats.  Teaching children good manners of not wearing one’s hat indoors is a good lesson.  However, many no-hat policies were established not to teach manners, but to prevent clothing related to gang association. 

The Center for Disease Control has developed “Guidelines for School Programs to Prevent Skin Cancer.”  Within it, they recommend encouraging or requiring students to wear protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses.  They also suggest establishing a routine for sunscreen use before going outside.  Other organizations have recently encouraged smarter sun safety decisions within the schools.

I voiced my agreement to the CDC’s report last year to my wife.  While she supports sun safety as well, she, a daycare teacher, brought up a good point.  “Who’s going to apply sunscreen to the little kids?”

Teachers in daycare and elementary schools take care of many kids.  In some cases, there are teacher’s assistants.  However, many state and county governments are cutting back, so there are fewer assistants.  At my wife’s daycare, one teacher could have up to 13 children.  In elementary school, the number is double that.  Very young kids simply cannot apply sunscreen by themselves.  It would take an extended period of time for any one teacher to apply the sunscreen to 13 to 25 kids and expect to have any time left for the playground.  It’s certainly a problem which has no real easy solution.

Last year, I sent out a survey of questions to teachers.  I had hoped to analyze and present a detailed breakdown of the data, but my schedule never allowed me time.  Still, I have the data and felt I might as well present the raw data for discussion.  Here are the questions and the results.

1.      Are you a teacher?
98% responded that they were.

2.       If you are a teacher, what grade do you teach?
a)      Pre-school                  8%
b)      K thru 2nd                  34%
c)       3rd thru 5th                25%
d)      Middle School           16%
e)      High School               17%

3.       How many children are in your class?
a)      Less than 5                  1%
b)      5 to 15                         7%
c)       16 to 25                       53%
d)      More than 25               39%

4.       Do you have a teaching assistant or another adult with you in class?
a)      Yes                                 36%
b)      No                                  64%

5.       Do you feel children in your grade/age are capable of applying sunscreen by their selves?
a)      Yes                                 53%
b)      Yes, but assisted            33%
c)       No                                  14%

6.       Which statement best fits your opinion towards sunscreen application for your class?
a)      All children MUST wear sunscreen during outdoor recess
b)      Only those children whose parents request it must wear sunscreen during outdoor recess
c)       Applying sunscreen to every child takes too much time
d)      Other (most which state they simply are not allowed to apply by school rule)

7.       Do you teach sun safety in your class?
a)      Yes, it’s part of our curriculum                        3%
b)      Yes, although it’s not required teaching         63%
c)       No, it’s not allowed under our curriculum     10%
d)      No, this should not be taught in class              7%
e)      Other                                                                17% (Most stated they simply never thought of it)

8.       Many schools ask that parents order class t-shirts to wear during field trips and “Spirit Days.”  Do you feel that parents are willing to pay for class hats to wear during outdoor recess?
a)      Yes                                 52%
b)      No                                  40%
c)       Another idea             8%  (most comments suggest kids be allowed to bring their own within dress code)        

I’m not a statistician, so I can’t really provide any scientific conclusions.  It appears that there are no easy answers.  Yes, we want our children safe in the sun…but no, with regards to younger kids, the teachers simply do not have the time or assistance.  In many cases, allergies and touching (either transfer of germs or considered “inappropriate”) are a concern as well.  Perhaps there needs to be a middle ground.

In my opinion, I’d like to see sun safety added to the school’s curriculum at every age group.  There are many suggested age-specific education guidelines available…certainly the school boards can select one to cover various grades.  I’d also like to see hats be allowed for outdoor use only.  These can be school hats or a child’s personal hat.  Sunglasses should be encouraged as well.

As for sunscreen, I really don’t know.  I guess a couple more questions could have been added to the survey.

1.       What do you feel is the proper age for a child to be trusted to apply their own sunscreen? 
2.       For younger children, and considering the limitations imposed on the teachers, how do you propose sunscreen be applied to younger kids?

  Let me know your thoughts.  It’s a debate worth having.

Postscript:  My apologies for the poor formatting.  Sometimes, numbering and bullets simply don't transfer well between MS Word and this blogging software.  I'll try to make it more legible in the near future.  -Al

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Month of Facts

May has come and gone this year.  Melanoma Awareness Month 2015 is over.  But I’d like to think that the results of actions taken this month will extend well into the following months.

I decided to take my action by sharing a skin cancer or melanoma facts throughout the month.  Each day, I posted a specific fact about the cancer.  The only exception was on Melanoma Monday where I posted a plea to simply be aware of melanoma.  Some people doubted particular facts, but I assure you that each was quoted from a legitimate source.  In most cases, the true raw source was available from the source I cited.  For instance, I read the fact that UV radiation is a proven carcinogen, which was cited from the Skin Cancer Foundation website.  The true source listed within the site was the National Toxicology Program. Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. 2011: 429-430.  It was a little hard for me to fit all that in the space provided in each fact snippet, so I simply referenced the Skin Cancer Foundation as my source.  If you doubted any of my sources, please dig a little more to find the raw source.

The most doubted, yet most shared fact was that more people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.  In case you wish to research this a bit more, the raw source was from the following: Wehner M, Chren M-M, Nameth D, et al. International prevalence of indoor tanning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatol 2014; 150(4):390-400. Doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.6896.

Anyhow, I was asked a few times to share all of the month’s fact at one time, so you’ll find the entire list and the general sources lists below.  But before I share the list, let me make a few statements. 

First of all, many of the statistics I've shared relate to cancer and death.  You can change these statistics!  You can help prevent melanoma primarily by protecting yourself from the UV rays and seeing your dermatologist regularly. If we prevent the disease, the depressing and alarming statistics would no longer exist.

Secondly, for those of you who have melanoma, the statistics I've shared apply to people in the past…they do not apply to you personally.  Statistics do not define your fight…your hope…your triumph.  You do! 

Lastly, let me share a few more statistics.  I posted 31 different facts.  These facts were read by over 325,000 people on Facebook alone.  The facts were shared on Facebook a total of over 4,800 times.  I shared the facts on Twitter and Instagram as well, so the exposure extended even further.  This has been a true example of spreading melanoma awareness.  It indeed spreads and it works.  Grassroots campaigns such as Black is the New Pink and countless others work.  Please, please, please continue to spread awareness to your friends, families and total strangers.  It makes a difference! 

Thank you to each any every person who read, liked, or shared these facts during Melanoma Awareness Month!  Also, thank you to staff member Donald at the Waterside Resort in Hilton Head Island who helped me work out some technical glitches with my tablet so that I could continue posting these facts even while I was on a family vacation!

Here are all the facts:

One out of every five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime.
Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion

The literal definition of "melanoma" is "black tumor."  Today is Melanoma Monday.  Please wear black today to help up raise awareness and to honor those touched by melanoma…past, present, and future.
About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
Melanoma/skin cancer is the most underfunded of all cancers by federal and private agencies
Melanoma accounts for 5% of all skin cancers and 71% of all skin cancer deaths.
The incidence of melanoma has increased 15 times in the last 40 years. This is a more rapid increase than for any other cancer!
Cleveland Clinic
Melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 25 to 29
Cleveland Clinic
Melanoma is the second most common cancer in women ages 30 to 34, as well as in men ages 30 to 49.
Thirty percent of all melanoma in men arises on the back
Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. and worldwide.
Melanoma often starts out as a mole and can be removed if caught early.
From 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men.
In 2015, it is estimated that there will be 73,870 new cases of melanoma in the United States
One in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime.
On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour.
Cancer Research UK
The average age for melanoma diagnosis is 50, compared to other cancers, which is closer to 65-70 years old.
In 2015, it is estimated that 9,940 deaths will be attributed to melanoma — 6,640 men and 3,300 women.
People under age 45 account for 25% of all melanoma cases.
10% of all people with melanoma have a family history of melanoma.
Of the seven most common cancers in the US, melanoma is the only one whose incidence is increasing.
On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.
Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is a proven human carcinogen.
More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.
Contrary to popular belief, 80 percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure is not acquired before age 18; only about 23 percent of lifetime exposure occurs by age 18
2011 study on solar altitude
UV eye exposure is greatest during early morning and late afternoon when the sun is lower.  Wear your sunglasses!
Cloud cover reduces UV levels, but not completely. Depending on the thickness of the cloud cover, it is possible to burn on a cloudy day, even if it does not feel warm.
Surfaces like snow, sand, pavement, and water reflect much of the UV radiation that reaches them. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high even in shaded areas.
My Brother Jeff
Melanoma may start on your skin, but it can spread to your lungs, brain, and other organs.  It can kill you.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Melanoma Awareness...It's That Simple!

After my brother passed away from Stage IV melanoma, I had questions; simple questions really.  What is melanoma?  How does one get it?  How does one prevent it?  How can I know if I have melanoma?  I browsed many websites and read many articles from different perspectives.  The answers I formulated were relatively simple as well.  I was astonished that my own ignorance of melanoma could have been easily eliminated by some simple information, so I decided to share my findings with others through my efforts in “Black is the New Pink.”   My guess was that sharing such simple messages would enlighten others and that would be that.  There would be no opposition to simple fact, right?

It got far more complicated than I ever imagined.  For each simple message, there has been some type of opposing and obstructive point of view.  Pro-tanning.  Anti-sunscreen.  Big Pharma Conspiracy. There have been times that I wondered if sharing the message was worth the hassle.

It is.

If I was to imagine a conversation to summarize the message and opposition, it would probably go something like this:

Me: Melanoma is a skin cancer…

 Them: Oh thank goodness!

Wait…what?  What is good about that?

Well, melanoma is just skin cancer, so it’s not a really big deal.

No, that’s not true.  Melanoma is a skin cancer, but it’s so much more.  It’s one of the most deadly and aggressive cancers that exists.

But you can just cut the melanoma out…right?

Yes, if caught at an early stage, but it can spread to other organs very quickly and be very deadly.

But it’s not as deadly as other cancers.

It’s true that there are more cases of other cancers, but one person dies of melanoma every hour.  While most cancer deaths are decreasing, melanoma deaths are on the rise.

It can’t be all that deadly…I’ve never heard anyone famous dying from it.

Have you heard of Bob Marley?  He died from melanoma that occurred on his toe.

Yes, I know who Bob Marley is, but I thought you said melanoma is a skin cancer.  How could he have got it on his toe?

Melanoma is deadly that way.  It can spread all over or even form in places other than the skin, such as the toe, the eyes, the genitals…all over.

So what causes it?

Many things, but mostly it’s caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds.

Yeah, but tanning beds are safe because they’re controlled.

No they’re not.  Some tanning beds can emit up to 12 times more radiation than the sun!  It’s my hope that legislation will pass across the country that would ban minors from artificial tanning.

I believe the government should have no right to dictate such things.  The parent should be responsible for determining whether or not a child can visit a tanning salon.

Many parents simply don’t understand the dangers of tanning.  There are many young adults who have melanoma now because their parents allowed them to go tanning as teens.  Such age-limiting laws have been in effect for years to protect children from parents’ uneducated decisions.  Alcohol, smoking, pornography, driving, gun use…the list goes on.  Tanning is no different.

But I’ve read that tanning beds are good for you.  They give you Vitamin D.

That’s not true.  Most tanning beds emit UVA rays which have nothing to do with Vitamin D production.  There are some UVB beds, but dermatologists recommend using diet and supplements to increase your Vitamin D.

What about psoriasis or seasonal effect disorder?  I hear that tanning beds cure those.

No they don’t.  The National Psoriasis Foundation does not endorse the use of tanning beds, and SAD is treated by a different kind of light.

Well, at least you can get a base tan from a tanning bed and that will provide you with protection while you’re on vacation.

Not really.  In fact, there is no such thing as a healthy tan.  Even a base tan is a sign of skin damage.  The most SPF a base tan can provide is around 2 or 4, which is hardly enough to protect you at all.

What about people with naturally dark skin?  Don’t they have some built-in SPF?

It’s true that the darkest skin has a natural SPF of about 12, but again, constant exposure to UV radiation can cause damage over time.  While lighter skinned people are more susceptible to melanoma, those with darker skin can get melanoma as well.  In fact, the darker the skin, the harder it is to find.  That’s why melanoma is usually deadlier in darker toned skin…it is often difficult to find at an earlier stage.

Melanoma is not just a white person’s disease?

No.  Again, I mention Bob Marley.

Wow.  So, I guess you want to ban the sun as well?

Not at all.  I love being in the sun!  But you really need to protect yourself from the UV radiation.

Why?  The sun is as natural as water.

True, but you’d wear a life jacket in deep water if you didn’t know how to swim.  The same concept applies to the sun and sunscreen.

But sunscreen is dangerous!  There are chemicals in sunscreen that have been shown to cause birth defects and other problems.

True, there are such chemicals in some sunscreens, but they’re at such a low dose that there is no danger.  The studies that showcase the dangers use so much more sunscreen on a mouse than would ever be applied proportionally to a human.  Even so, there are sunscreens available without those chemicals.

But if more people are using sunscreen yet melanoma is still on the rise, doesn’t that mean that
sunscreen might be causing melanoma?

No.  The problem is that people are using sunscreen incorrectly.  They put it on at the beginning of the day and never reapply it.

They don’t need to if they buy a high SPF.  An SPF 30 lotion will protect me for 30 times longer than without sunscreen.  That means if I burn in 15 minutes, I can put on SPF 30 and be safe for…um…15 times 30 equals…um…450 minutes which is equal to 7 ½ hours!  So I just need to put it on in the morning!

You’re right about the meaning of SPF, but what you forget is that sweat and water causes the lotions to wear off or wash away.  Sunscreen needs to be applied every 2 hours or after you’ve been swimming.  And you need to cover your entire body thoroughly.

But I use water proof lotion!

There’s no such thing as water proof lotion.  The FDA ordered that all such claims be disallowed.  You can use a water resistant lotion, but even that will wash off in water and sweat.

So all I have to do is wear sunscreen and I’ll be protected from UV radiation?

Well, it’s important to understand that sunscreen doesn’t provide all the protection.  Make sure you wear a hat, wear sunglasses, wear tight knit or UPF clothing, and stay in the shade when possible.

Okay, I think I understand all of that.  So how do I know if I have it?

First of all, see a dermatologist.

No thanks…they’ll cut me open just to make a buck!


Dermatologists are in cahoots with “Big Pharma.”  They get kick backs from the sunscreen companies and encourage the dermatologists to cut out the occasional mole in order to scare patients into using the sunscreen.  It’s a big conspiracy.

<sigh>  I don’t have an argument for that except that I know many doctors that are honest people and their chief concern is treating the patient.  Some doctors may cut out moles more aggressively than others, but many lives have been saved when a biopsy comes back with unexpected positive results.  I strongly urge you to see a dermatologist.

Can’t I just check for spots myself?

Yes you can…along with an annual visit to the dermatologist.  Many recommend that you check yourself monthly by following the ABCDE method.  I’ll send you the details of that later.

Okay, I think I get it.  But I have one more question.  Why do you say “Black is the New Pink?”  Do you have something against breast cancer awareness?

No…the title represents the wish from my brother that the melanoma awareness campaign might one day be as successful as the pink breast cancer awareness campaign.

Okay, that’s fine.  But why black?  The black ribbon is supposed to represent when someone is mourning and more recently, as support for “Black Lives Matter.”  I thought the color for skin cancer was orange.

Unfortunately, we have a dual-color campaign.  Traditional skin cancer awareness sometimes uses orange to represent the sun’s role in skin cancer.  Those who have been touched by melanoma typically embrace the black color because the literal definition of melanoma is “black tumor.”

So if I understand you right, melanoma is a deadly, aggressive skin cancer that anyone can get mostly from UV radiation which comes from the sun or tanning beds.  I need to protect myself by staying away from tanning beds, and using sunscreen when outdoors, along with wearing other protection.  I need to see a dermatologist every year to get my skin checked and I should check myself every month or so to see if there’s anything suspicious.

Yes…it’s that simple! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Write to Your Local High Schools!

A little over two years ago (February 15, 2013 to be exact), I wrote a letter to the local high school newspaper’s faculty adviser and asked if one of their students might want to write about indoor tanning. There was pending state legislation against tanning at the time and I was interested in a teenager’s perspective.   While I identified myself as an advocate for tanning legislation, I provided websites and information for both sides of the argument.  Yes, my message was slightly biased towards the safer choice, but I wanted the newspaper to do their homework and give their honest opinion.  The adviser responded and stated that she’d forward the idea to the student staff and let them decide.  After a few weeks, I hadn’t heard from the advisor and life caught up with me to the point that I never followed up.

Fast forward to about a week ago when I noticed my “Sent” folder in my email account had not been emptied in a long while.  The aforementioned message was still there.  My curiosity got the best of me, so I looked up the high school newspaper’s website and checked older articles.  Sure enough I found this, dated February 26, 2013:
North Carolina considers teenage tanning ban 
News Editor

Every year in the United States, nearly 28 million people tan in indoor tanning salons annually. Out of that 28 million, 2.3 million of these patrons are teenagers. Seventy percent of people using indoor tanning salons are Caucasian women ages 16 to 29 years.

The indoor tanning days of North Carolina teens could soon be over. Legislators are considering a bill that will ban anyone under 18 from using a tanning bed. In comparison, the current North Carolina law is less restrictive. Children under 13 are prohibited from using a tanning bed without a doctor’s permission, and teens ages 14 to 17 simply need a parent’s permission.
The facts paint an unfavorable picture for the indoor tanning industry. There is a 75% increased risk of melanoma for those who have been exposed to UV radiation from tanning beds, and that risk increases with each use. Studies show that there is an 87% increased risk of melanoma for those who start using tanning beds before the age of 35.

But for some these facts are not enough. Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, argued that the tanning industry should be given equal time to present its facts before lawmakers vote.

The bill will be debated and is expected to get a vote in the House Health Committee on Tuesday, February 26.

Again on March 8, 2013, another article was written, complete with a poll of students as to whether or not teenagers should be allowed to indoor tan.  Here’s that article and the poll results:
New tanning law could protect teens 

North Carolina’s legislature is currently proposing the “Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act,” a bill which would increase the state’s minimum indoor tanning age from 13 to 18, with the exception of a doctor’s note.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 76,690 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma while 9,480 will likely die in 2013 alone, citing UV rays, used in tanning beds, as a contributing factor. Also, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that those who use beds before age thirty five increase their risk for melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, by an alarming 75 percent.

Many young people, specifically teenage girls, don’t necessarily realize the long-term damage a day at the tanning salon can cause. According to, since teens’ skin cells are still rapidly developing, they are more vulnerable to cancer than adults.

Is it worth having a temporary tan if you could develop a dangerous, potentially life-threatening disease? This bill attempts to curb these alarming cancer statistics among young people who may make a decision they regret afterwards.

Opponents claim that if teens desire darker skin, they will simply sunbathe outside and still be at risk. Does that mean N.C.’s legislature should do nothing? Passing this bill could potentially save countless lives. Shouldn’t our lawmakers do everything within their power to ensure teens remain safe and healthy?

Below is a poll of Apex High School's opinion on tanning among children:

Note the results of the poll.  78.4% of the students believed that minors should NOT be allowed to use tanning beds!  That is FANTASTIC!

This goes to show you that it pays to take some simple actions.  Donna Regen of “Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds” is currently asking folks to write to colleges to ask that tanning beds be eliminated from university-promoted housing.  With prom season fast approaching, I strongly encourage you to write your local high school as I did and ask that their newspaper take a hard look at the tanning debate.  Offer up facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation and MRF websites.  Encourage sun safety.  It's quite simple!  

Teenagers are smart…more intelligent than we give them credit for.  Let’s encourage them to get loud and spread the word on smart tanning choices.