WHEELING - Wheeling Hospital oncologist Dr. Jondavid Pollock says every year he has at least one patient die as the result of skin melanoma - a cancer attributed to extreme exposure to sun or tanning beds.
More often, those diagnosed with melanomas are female, as women and girls are more apt to seek bronzed skin than are men. And patients with skin cancer also are younger today than in years past, according to Pollock.
Melanoma is a cancer that develops in melanocytes, the pigment cells present in the skin. It can be more serious than the other forms of skin cancer because it may metastasize and spread to other parts of the body.
Dr. Jondavid Pollock discusses women’s skin care and the risk for melanomas in his office at Wheeling Hospital.
Photo by Joselyn King
Pollock pointed to a recent report released by the International Institute of Dermatology that concluded exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of malignant melanomas in women "especially aged 45 or younger."
"Women overwhelmingly use tanning beds more than do men," he said. "Numerous surveys have been published suggesting that young women in particular feel that dark skin is attractive, and tan skin is the picture of health. That is wrong.
"Among high school seniors, only 25 percent of women surveyed felt their natural skin color was 'healthy' - which is scary and stupid ... just awful. But that is the reigning opinion among high school seniors."
It often takes 10 to 20 years for melanoma cancer to develop after exposure to ultra-violet radiation, he continued.
As a result, a teenager who tans often gets her first melanoma by the time she is 40 years of age.
Those using tanning beds tend to be at greater risk, but not because the beds are no more dangerous for the skin than is direct sunlight, Pollock explained.
He noted sunlight is most extreme only for specific periods of the day, and shines hottest only during specific times of the year. Tanning beds, meanwhile, are available to the user 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
As we enter the warmer weather months, Pollock noted it is imperative women act to protect themselves from ultra-violet rays.
First, they should wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of at least 30, he explained.
A rating of 30 means the wearer may stay in the sun 30 times longer than if not wearing any sunscreen, while a rating of 6 would mean six times as long in the sun than without protection. A large, broad-brimmed hat also is helpful in keeping sun off the face and neck, he added.
Pollock also suggested those who feel they need a bronze look seek out "spray-on" tan options.
"These are safe," he said. "They last for weeks, and are readily available."