Posts Tagged ‘melanoma’

The tanning bed debate: game, set and match

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

You can tell when an industry or company has its back to the wall because it starts spinning the bad news so fast that Ginger Rogers would get dizzy. Late in July the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced in the new issue of the Lancet Oncology that the evidence was unequivocal: tanning bed use increases the odds of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.  In fact, the organization, which until now has avoided stating flatly that tanning beds and sun lamps cause cancer, moved tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category: “carcinogenic to humans,” a designation shared by such substances as tobacco and mustard gas.  It reported that an analysis of clinical research shows that teens and young adults under age 30 who regularly use tanning beds increase their melanoma risk by a staggering 75 percent.

News doesn’t get more damning than that, and it only reinforces the point we have made so often in our book, on this blog and in our other writings: avoiding excessive sun exposure is one of the most important steps you can take to improve not only the health of your skin but your overall health.  The trouble is, the tanning salon industry isn’t, as you would expect, turning cartwheels over this news.  For years, the industry has caught a great deal of flack for opening up new salons directly across from high schools in an obvious attempt to woo young girls looking to get bronzed before prom.  So it’s not surprising that the official response of the industry was this, from an MSNBC story:

“The fact that the IARC has put tanning bed use in the same category as sunlight is hardly newsworthy,” said Dan Humiston, president of the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA). “The UV light from a tanning bed is equivalent to UV light from the sun, which has had a group 1 classification since 1992. Some other items in this category are red wine, beer and salted fish. The ITA has always emphasized the importance of moderation when it comes to UV light from either the sun or a tanning bed.”

That is more than a little disingenuous.  The IARC Group 1 classification includes ethanol as a carcinogen, a type of alcohol that is indeed found in alcoholic beverages like red wine and beer.  But drinking a glass of red wine is hardly the same as drinking pure ethanol, and it’s probably safe to say that the proven health benefits of red wine also counterbalance the cancer risks.  This comes across as desperate spin from an industry that’s heard its death knell…maybe.

That brings up the real point: will this announcement change behavior. There are some positive signs already: MSNBC also reports that tanning salons around the country have seen a spike in cancellations after this cancer information was made public.  But how long will that last?  If history is any indication, teens who believe they are immortal will revert back to old habits unless this new information is followed with continuing education.  So if you’re the parent of a young woman (or man, since guys tan, too), take it upon yourself to learn more about this announcement, the dangers of tanning beds, and melanoma in general, and talk to your kids.  You can learn more here:

Stay beautiful,

Debi & Eva

Designer molecule attacks melanoma two ways

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

We like to talk about inner beauty, but outer beauty matters, too, especially as a bellwether of health.  And when it comes to skin health, nothing is a greater concern than melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.  Melanoma is strongly linked to sunburn during childhood and adolescence, but it can strike women (and men) in areas that rarely receive any sun exposure.  Melanoma is a difficult cancer to treat; after years of research, the only reliable treatment has been to surgically remove the malignant growth before it becomes more than one millimeter thick.  The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 48,000 deaths from melanoma around the world each year.

So it’s pretty exciting to read about a newly released study from the University of Bonn, Germany, in which a “designer molecule” fights melanoma in two ways at the same time.  In one line of attack, the molecule acts like a virus, which alerts the body’s immune system to power up and start attacking the tumor cells.  In the other line, the molecule uses an aspect of RNA discovered in 2006 by two Nobel laureate scientists to “switch off” a specific gene in the tumor cells, essentially driving them to suicide more reliably than if you’d forced the cells to watch 24 straight hours of reality TV.

The disguised-as-a-virus approach tricked the immune system of the research subject (in this case, a mouse) into aggressively attacking its own malignant cells as though they were an infectious body, while the suicide strategy took advantage of a natural self-destruct mechanism that exists within all cells and keeps them from becoming out-of-control cancer cells.  The bottom line of this experiment was that in mice, the double-assault tactic inhibited the growth of melanoma cells that had metastasized to the lungs, and even shrank or eliminated secondary tumors.  The researchers caution, however, than what works in mice doesn’t always work in humans, and that more work and study is needed.  Fair enough.  But it’s safe to say that after years of having nothing but surgery in our arsenal to fight this dangerous cancer, any new advance is a reason for hope.

In the meantime, limit your sun exposure, wear sunscreen, and be sure to get a skin check every year from your general practitioner or a dermatologist.  In fact, if you go to your dermatologist for something as routine as Botox, have a skin check while you’re there.  Having a suspicious mole removed once in a while is infinitely preferable to enduring melanoma, no matter how much you like the idea of bronzed skin.  That’s what self-tanners are for.  That way, you can ensure that you stay healthy so you can enjoy being beautiful.  And by the way, if you can only afford one skin care product, make it a moisturizing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 45.

Stay beautiful,

Debi & Eva













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