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The 'perfect tan' can be deadly
July 2006 St. Paul Pioneer Press Newspaper

Despite the rise in cancer cases among young adults, they choose to burn


Eden Prairie High School

It is not uncommon for teenage girls to regularly bombard their bodies with the radiation of tanning beds to achieve the perfect dark hue. But there's one thing they might not realize: The formation of cancer could kill them.

In search of a glowing summer tan, 32 percent of teenage girls use tanning beds, reports the American Academy of Dermatology.

As the popularity of tanning increases, the incidence of skin cancer has risen in recent decades. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer, according to the AAD.

"There is absolutely, positively, without any shadow of a doubt, no such thing as a safe tan," said Dr. Charles Crutchfield, of Crutchfield Dermatology in Eagan.

Once a disease that primarily plagued middle-aged people, skin cancer is increasingly common for young adults and even teenagers. These cancers develop, in part, as a result of excessive ultraviolet or UV exposure from tanning beds.

Crutchfield has seen an increase in the number of young adults with skin cancer in recent years. He recently removed cancerous moles from a young woman who proclaimed herself as a sun-worshiper. Her sister, who wears sunscreen, has no signs of the disease.

Rebecca Mullen, 20, of Excelsior is taking her chances. For the past three years, she's been tanning every week to maintain her tan.

Mullen does not know anyone with the disease, and she said she isn't worried about what could happen in the future.

Catch-A-Tan, a St. Paul indoor tanning salon on Snelling Avenue, posts information on its Web site provided by describing a process called "smart tanning." The site says "smart tanning" is developing a "healthy" base tan through using tanning beds to prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. That's not true, Crutchfield said.

A tan is only formed on the skin when the DNA of skin cells has been severely damaged, commonly resulting in skin cancer later in life.

"A tan is your body's way of saying that it is in desperate trouble," Crutchfield said. adds, "By wearing sunscreen in the northern climates, you totally block your body's ability to produce vitamin D." Vitamin D, combined with calcium, is essential to the maintenance of strong bones and teeth.

According to the AAD, sun block does not inhibit the formation of vitamin D, and normal levels of vitamin D can be maintained through a diet of fish, vitamin D-enriched milk and vitamin supplements. Crutchfield also said a sufficient amount of vitamin D is produced when a patch of skin about the size of two palms is exposed to sunlight for only 10 minutes a week.

The best way to avoid sun damage, said Matt Leary of the American Cancer Society, is to wear an SPF or sun protection factor sunblock of at least 15 and to cover exposed skin.

For early detection of skin cancer, Leary said, "examine your skin regularly," and be alert to changes in the size, color or shape of any existing moles, freckles or beauty marks.

Despite statistics and warnings, many teenage girls still insist on visiting tanning salons. Christine Carbert, 20, of Minnetonka said it's all about having that perfect body. It can also become addicting for some.

"They think they look really gross if they aren't tan," said Carbert. "I go tanning to get rid of my tan lines. I just like to get a sun-kissed look."

Skin cancer facts

Melanoma is the most common cancer among people 25 to 29 years old. Malignant melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It causes more than 75 percent of all deaths from skin cancer. This disease can spread to other organs, most commonly the lungs and liver. Malignant melanoma diagnosed at an early stage usually can be cured, but melanoma diagnosed at a late stage is more likely to spread and cause death.

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