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Tanning Beds Can Cause Cancer

Finally!  [H/T to]

After surgery I am often asked, “When can I get back in the tanning bed?”  I say something like, “I would rather you not use a tanning bed.  You need to protect you new scar from the sun, that includes tanning beds, for at least 6 months.”

“But, if I cover up the scar, when can I get back in the tanning bed?” is the usual response.

I then counter with, “IF you feel you must, then yes cover the scars.  Please, limit or reduce the time you spend in the tanning bed.  I would rather you not use a tanning bed.”

Most see “no harm” in using a tanning bed.  After all, it’s not like laying out in the sun for hours.  Too many see tanning beds as a “safe” way to get a tan.  It isn’t.

Experts at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, have published their analysis of 20 studies online in the medical journal Lancet Oncology.  The analysis concludes the risk of skin cancer jumps by 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before age 30.

These same experts have moved tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation into the top cancer risk category, deeming both to be as deadly as arsenic and mustard gas.  The new classification also puts them in the list of definite causes of cancer, alongside tobacco, the hepatitis B virus and chimney sweeping, among others.

I would not mind tanning bed extinction.  Regular use increased the risk of melanoma.  It is much better to have a “peaches and cream” complexion or to use self-tanning creams.  Skin cancer is no fun.

Related posts:

Sun Protection (March 19, 2009)

Melanoma Review (February 25, 2008)

Skin Cancer—Melanoma (December 8, 2008)

Melanoma Skin Screening Is Important (April 29, 2009)

Skin Cancer — Basal Cell Carcinoma (December 3, 2008)

Skin Cancer – Squamous Cell Carcinoma (December 4, 2008)

Moles Should Not Be Treated by Lasers (July 27, 2009)

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

Dr. Val: Poster Child for Skin Cancer Risk

May is skin cancer awareness month, and Revolution Health has created an awareness campaign to help people become more educated about their risks. In a unanimous vote, I was selected as the blogger/spokesperson for skin cancer awareness – probably because I’m “the fairest in the land.” Well, the truth is I’m so white I’m actually closer to light blue – couple that with a high freckle count and green eyes and you’ve got one very high risk lady.

So I’ve decided to see a dermatologist once a year for a full skin check. I must admit that the first year I went I was convinced that I’d be biopsied into oblivion. The only way to be sure that a mole is not cancerous is to take a sample and check it under the microscope. So any doctor with a conservative eye would need to do a lot of “rule out melanoma” testing, right? Wrong. I was happily wrong. Dermatologists are trained to recognize individual freckle and mole patterns, and don’t do a biopsy unless they see an “ugly duckling” mole – one that stands out from all the others. I was so excited to escape the office with my skin in tact that I vowed to be obedient and return for a yearly check up.

If you are fair skinned and/or have had a significant amount of sun exposure in your life, or if people in your family have had skin cancer, you should definitely check in with a dermatologist to make sure you don’t have any suspicious moles. The doctor will tell you how frequently you should have follow up exams.

Here are some things you can do right now:

Find out if you’re at risk for skin cancer and learn what you can do to prevent it.

See what skin cancer looks like.

Check out my recent interview with Dr. Stephen Stone, past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, about skin cancer and about tanning salons.

Coming soon: the true story of my blogger friend who had a basal cell carcinoma removed from the side of her nose. She required plastic surgery to fill the gap, but it looks great now!This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Let’s Hear It For Plastic Surgeons

I was really impressed with some beautiful work done by a French plastic surgeon on behalf of this patient with Von Recklinghausen’s disease (Elephant man’s syndrome). Thanks to Dr. Bates for pointing it out. A full face transplant was performed with incredible improvement in the man’s appearance and quality of life. I discussed the ethics behind face transplantations in a previous post.

I also applaud the plastic surgeon who carefully filled the nose defect of my fellow blogger TBTAM who had a large basal cell carcinoma removed from the side of her face. See the post-op photo and recent healing shot here. I myself have had some facial surgery, after being mauled by a dog as a child.

I am so grateful to the surgeons who do this kind of work. I know they get a bad rap with all the Dr. 90210 publicity and breast/botox focus. But there are also many unsung heroes. This post is for you! Many thanks from those whom you’ve helped over the years.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

CBS News: Marine Survives Battle, Dies of Misdiagnosis?

Tonight (Jan 31, 2008) the CBS evening news will be airing a segment about a tragic case of a young Marine who died of melanoma. According to the news transcript, an unusual mole was diagnosed as a melanoma in 1997, but no follow up was scheduled, and no explanation given to the young man about his diagnosis or treatment plan. Eight years later in Iraq he complained to medical personnel of the mole growing larger and he was told it was a wart which would be treated once he returned to US soil. He slipped through the cracks somehow, and tragically died in 2008 of stage IV melanoma.

One interesting issue raised in the segment is that the Marine was not eligible to to sue for negligence in his case.  There is a law, the Feres Doctrine, that denies military personnel the right to sue the government in cases of perceived or real medical malpractice. The rule was established in 1950 after a case was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court (Feres v. United States) in which servicemen who picked up highly radioactive weapons fragments from a crashed airplane were not permitted to recover damages from the government.

While I do understand (in theory) the purpose of this law – if every battle injury allowed soldiers to sue the government, we’d bankrupt our country in the span of a year – it does seem to be over-reaching in this case. The Marine was not injured in battle, but his life was indeed compromised by sloppy medical follow up. In my opinion, the doctor who correctly diagnosed him in 1997 should be held accountable for lack of follow up (if that’s indeed what happened). As for the military personnel who thought the Marine’s advanced melanoma was a wart, that is a tragic misdiagnosis, but hard to say that there was malpractice at play. With limited access to diagnostic pathology services, it is difficult (in the field) to be sure of the diagnosis of a skin lesion. And yes, I can imagine that an advanced melanoma could look wart-like. This is a tragic shame, but since the young man had the melanoma for 8 years prior to the misdiagnosis of the “wart,” in the end I doubt that a correct diagnosis at that point would have changed his terminal outcome.

But I wonder if the Feres Doctrine should be modified to allow for more accountability amongst military physicians in caring for diseases and conditions unrelated to military service? Although I am not pro-lawsuit, it does seem unfair that this Marine was denied the opportunity to pursue justice in his case. What do you think? Check out the segment with Katie Couric tonight and let’s discuss.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Is that your real skin?

I’ve been thinking about skin cancer lately.  A young, fair skinned friend of mine
recently had a small mole removed from her leg.
It turned out to be melanoma!  It
didn’t take me too long to make the connection between her complexion and mine,
and the fact that I’d been avoiding the dermatologist for several years,
worried that I’d come out like a punch biopsy pin cushion since I have quite a
few freckles and moles (and I’ve heard that dermatologists like to err on the
side of caution and biopsy anything remotely suspicious).  But the melanoma story galvanized me into
action.  I made an appointment with a
dermatologist (yes, I had to wait 4 months to get an appointment!) and got a
skin check.  Luckily for me, all was fine.  But I started to reflect on various conversations
I’ve had about my skin recently.  All you
Irish types out there will relate…

Conversation 1

Coworker A: Val, are you ok?
You look kind of sick.

Me: I’m just fine.

Coworker A: But Val, you look a little… bluish…

Me: That’s just my skin color.  My veins show through my skin because it has
no melanin.

Coworker A: (Appearing sympathetic) Oh, well glad you’re

Conversation 2

Coworker B: (in the middle of a conversation with me, sitting
across from one another on chairs.  I’m wearing a skirt.  Suddenly she lunges forward
and touches my knee and gasps).  Is that
your real skin?

Me: Um… yes.  What
else would it be?

Coworker B: Well, I thought you were wearing white pantyhose.

Me: Nope.  It’s too
hot for pantyhose so I just go bare legged.

Coworker B: (still in shock).  But that’s your skin?  Just like that?

Me: Yeah.  I don’t

Coworker B: (appearing sympathetic) Oh, wow.

Conversation 3

Dermatologist: Hi, I’m Dr. XXX. (Peering at me, seated on the examining table
in a paper gown.)  Are you Scandinavian?

Me: No, I’m part Welsh – you know, “Jones.”

Dermatologist: Oh, well the Vikings probably invaded Wales
at some point.

Me: (to myself) well thanks for alluding to the raping and pillaging
of my ancestors.

Dermatoligst: You’re high risk for skin cancer.  People like you need to have careful skin
exams every year.

Me: Yes I know.  But
please don’t take any unnecessary biopsies!
I think my moles are all fine.

Dermatologist: Well let’s see…(tearing the paper gown in two).  You definitely need to wear SPF 50…

Me: Sigh.  I know…

Conversation 4:

Husband: (giving me what I thought was a tender look.  He leans in…) Your eye lids are kind of pinkish purple

Me: Yes, that’s the color of the capillaries that show
through my lid skin.  Hard to get a tan
there you know.

Husband: You don’t need a tan – I like your color.  Kind of pastel pink and blue. (He leans in even closer to inspect my eye lids.)

Me: Yeah, not exactly attractive in a bathing suit. (I pull away.  He laughs.)

Husband: Well, yeah.
It’s better not to be out in the sun or on the beach, but you can still
go outside!

Me: Thanks.

Conversation 5:

Asian manicurist: (looking at my hands) Your skin is so white!

Me: Yes, I’m afraid my past efforts to alter that have failed.

Asian manicurist: How did you get your skin so white?

Me: I didn’t do anything.
It’s like that naturally.

Asian manicurist: (looking closer at my hands) I wish I had skin like yours.

Me: Why? (Hoping she’d say something flattering after all).

Asian manicurist: It looks clean.

And so I guess despite all the people I’ve worried with my vaguely cyanotic appearance, there’s one thing for sure: I look clean.  I guess I can live with that.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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