Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

How Tanning Beds Nearly Killed Me

When I was a teenager I did some stupid things, but looking back I think that the worst decision I made was to go to a tanning salon. At the time I remember tanning salon staff assuring me that it was “safer than the real sun” and the fastest way to get a healthy-looking glow. “You could bake in the sun all day, or spend 20 minutes in a tanning bed for the same effect” said the staff. So after trying several sunless tanners in varying shades of orange and having them slough off like patches of dirt, I decided to make my alabaster skin a nice, even shade of light caramel with months of tanning each year.

Fast forward twenty some-odd years and I’m in the surgeon’s office having a wide-margin re-excision of a melanoma on my back. I’d been wearing sunscreen since my early twenties, carefully protecting myself from UV radiation. I had realized the error of my ways after a serious conversation with a dermatologist, but I had “gotten religion” about skin protection too late. My fate was already set from the tanning bed exposure.

A new study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) estimates that tanning beds may be responsible for hundreds of thousands of non-melanoma skin cancers per year in the United States. As for melanoma (the deadliest kind of skin cancer), the World Health Organization has determined that the risk of melanoma is increased by 75% when the use of tanning devices starts before age 30. In fact, they classify tanning bed exposure as a “group 1 carcinogen” – in the same class of human toxicity as asbestos, tobacco, and mustard gas.

I was surprised to learn how common tanning bed use is, especially in Europe. According to the BMJ study, 10.6-35% of people in Germany, France, Denmark, and Sweden have used a tanning bed at some point in their lifetimes. The global nature of this problem is daunting – and with research suggesting that tanning has addictive properties, it may be as difficult to get people to avoid tanning salons as it is to have them quit smoking.

As for me, I learned my lesson and I have the scars to prove it. I was lucky that a dermatologist caught my melanoma before it spread, but now I need to be on the look-out for more of them and redouble my efforts to stay out of the sun. If you’ve ever used a tanning bed and have fair skin and freckles, you should probably keep your dermatologist on speed dial. That temporary “sun-kissed glow” can easily turn into wrinkles and Frankenstein scars in the not too distant future – along with a potentially fatal cancer diagnosis. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

Five Tips To Protect The Most Sensitive Skin

Baby skin is sun-sensitive.

Everyone wishes they had baby skin. It feels so soft and smooth; it’s perfectly adapted to induce us adults to want to clean their diaper, no matter how many times they dirty them. Like their big eyes and cute noses, baby skin is part of the whole package of being adorable. But like their eyes, their skin, however beautiful, is immature. Baby skin is thinner, has less natural moisturizers and has fewer pigment cells, making it more vulnerable to the environment than adult skin.

This is important especially in summer. How often do you see babies running around on the beach with just a diaper on? Although they seem indestructable, they are more vulnerable than the adult holding the pail and shovel.

Studies have shown that up to 83% of babies get sunburned their first year of life. This is our fault, not theirs. Sunburns at an early age can increase the risk for melanoma skin cancer on the trunk later in life. Sun exposure is also a poor way to get vitamin D for infants because most will get far more damaging sun than they need to make vitamin D — we adults tend to over cook them.

Here are five tips to keep your baby safe this summer: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Dermatology Blog*

Excess Sun Exposure Can Trigger Mole Development

Do you ever wish you didn’t have so many moles? It might be too late for you, but it doesn’t have to be for your kids. By reducing their sun exposure, you can reduce the number of moles (also called nevi) they develop.

Sunburns and excess sun exposure are triggers for moles to develop. Having lots of moles can be unsightly and increases their risk of developing melanoma later in life. Reducing excess sun will limit the number of moles they have and reduce their risk for melanoma many years from now.

Protect against sun to reduce moles.

Many of us grew up without good sunscreens (baby oil and iodine anyone?), but you can do so much more for your children: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Dermatology Blog*

Skin Cancer Where The Sun Don’t Shine

Not all skin cancers are from sun exposure. Viruses such as human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts, also cause skin cancer. Skin cancer from HPV develops on genital skin in both men and women. It’s rarely talked about, but it’s important and can be deadly.

Did you know that half of all deaths from skin cancer other than melanoma are from genital skin cancer? You probably also didn’t know that women are more likely to die from genital skin cancer as they are from skin cancer that developed from sun exposure (again, excluding melanoma).

We dermatologists are inexhaustible when it comes to warning people about the dangers of sun exposure, but we should also be warning people about the dangers of genital warts. HPV protection, which includes HPV vaccines, is as important as sun protection in preventing death from non-melanoma skin cancer.

Genital warts can lead to deadly skin cancer. If your dermatologist has not checked your genital skin, be sure your primary care physician or gynecologist does. This is especially important, because unlike other sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) which often have symptoms, HPV or genital warts often don’t. It may be embarrassing, but it could save your life.

*This blog post was originally published at The Dermatology Blog*

The Medical Misinformation Of The Huffington Post

Today I refer you to an excellent post by Peter A. Lipson, M.D., at the blog Science Based Medicine entitled “HuffPo blogger claims skin cancer is conspiracy.”

The post focuses on an article by someone who contends that the link between sunlight and skin cancer is a conspiracy by dermatologists and the cosmetic dermatology industry. Dr. Lipson’s highly insightful analysis about the “interview” process and how doctors must act these days on behalf of their patients concludes:

This article shows a misunderstanding of journalistic ethics, medical ethics, and medical science. It’s a disaster. And it’s no surprise that it’s in the Huffington Post.

While this is a medicine story, my question relates to why an organization with a lot of great front-page news so frequently posts medical articles that are wrong and, sometimes, downright dangerous.

Read the article first, then read Dr. Lipson’s analysis.

Disclosure: I am an occasional contributor to Science Based Medicine but, like all contributors there, receive no compensation.

*This blog post was originally published at Terra Sigillata*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »