At age 17, all Meghan Rothschild and Brittany Lietz wanted was a dark tan. They thought it made them look beautiful. But both had no idea that in just three years they would be battling melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Now Meghan, 24, of Wilbraham, Mass., and Brittany, 23, of Annapolis, Md., are speaking out about their experiences.
They are sharing their stories in the American Academy of Dermatology’s (Academy) new public service advertisement (PSA) campaign which was launched today. The campaign is designed to communicate the risks of indoor tanning to women ranging from those in high school to those in their mid 20s.
“Indoor tanning before the age of 35 has been associated with a significant increase in the risk of melanoma. Yet on an average day, more than one million Americans tan in tanning salons,” said Arielle N.B. Kauvar, MD, FAAD, dermatologist and chair of the Academy’s Council on Communications. “Research shows 70 percent of indoor tanners are female, primarily 16 to 29 years old — the age group that’s particularly at risk for developing skin cancer. We especially hope women who are using or considering using tanning salons will think twice about partaking in this risky behavior.”
Research also shows the dangerous results of indoor tanning. Melanoma is increasing faster in females 15-29 years old than males in the same age group. And in females 15-29, the torso is the most common location for developing melanoma, which may be due to high-risk tanning behaviors.
“Since one American dies of melanoma about every hour, it’s imperative that young people avoid deliberately seeking a tan,” said C. William Hanke, MD, MPH, FAAD, president of the Academy. “The Academy is committed toward reaching young women with this potentially life-saving message.”
The Academy’s 2008-2009 skin cancer PSA campaign features print, television and radio advertisements with the theme, “Indoor Tanning is Out.” The print ads feature Meghan and Brittany urging their peers to learn the facts about indoor tanning. The ads also direct readers to the Academy’s Web site for more information about the survivors’ stories.
The PSA portraits were taken by a photographer who has a deep connection to the cause. Susan Drinker, of Glenwood Springs, Colo., is a skin cancer survivor who documents other cancer survivors with her portrait photography. For the past five years, these emotional portraits have been displayed in various locations in her native Colorado.
The television and radio advertisements continue the theme, “Indoor Tanning is Out.” The television advertisements features a variety of young women telling their peers that indoor tanning is not as safe as they thought. The radio PSA is a contemporary folk song about the dangers of indoor tanning written by a 14-year-old girl and performed by a professional recording artist.
Brittany said when she was young she never heard much about skin cancer. “This campaign would have opened my eyes to reality,” she said. “People are now catching on that even young people are at risk for skin cancer.”
Young Women and Indoor Tanning
Research supports the need for public education on the health risks of indoor tanning. Studies have shown that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can be addictive because of the production of endorphins which can initiate dependency. A study published in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) indicates that indoor tanning device users are more likely to show signs of such addiction. This study found that 18 percent of undergraduate students who admitted to purposely seeking a tan demonstrated evidence of a substance-related disorder with respect to UV light, which is comparable with findings of other addiction studies conducted with college students, including those for alcohol and tobacco. This study also determined the tanners associated their experience with positive sensations of relaxation. Another study published in the April 2006 issue of JAAD found that some frequent tanners who tanned 8-15 times a month developed withdrawal-like symptoms when given a drug to block the endorphins produced by tanning. Since these withdrawal symptoms were not observed in the infrequent tanners, this study further supports that UV exposure may be addictive in frequent tanners.
In addition, a 2002 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that girls are more likely than boys to use tanning beds. Older girls, age 15-18, were more likely than younger girls, age 12-14, to use tanning beds. While tanning bed use among girls 14 years old was 7 percent, it increased dramatically to 35 percent by age 17. A survey conducted in 1999 among undergraduate and graduate students and published in the Archives of Dermatology in 2002 found that 47 percent of students had used indoor tanning beds. Ninety percent of these students admitted knowing about the adverse effects of indoor tanning, including premature aging and skin cancer.
Current estimates show one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. And, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, a known carcinogen.
“The Academy is committed to reducing incidence and mortality from skin cancer,” said Dr. Kauvar. “The Academy’s skin cancer PSA campaign is one way we can reach young women with this important health message.”
The PSA campaign is debuting on Melanoma Monday(R), May 5, and is being distributed throughout the country during May. For more information about the campaign or to view the television, radio and print ads, visit http://www.aad.org/media/psa/index.html.