A killer tan can be just that – killer.
Melanoma skin cancer is one of the most common and preventable forms of skin cancer in young Canadians aged 15 to 29. Indoor tanning before the age of 35 significantly increases a person’s risk of melanoma.
This is a statistic that 22-year-old Kate Neale knows too well. The pale, blue-eyed blonde was an avid tanner until she was diagnosed with Clark’s Level II melanoma at the age of 21.
Two years after the diagnosis, multiple biopsies and many procedures later, Neale has joined the fight to ban the use of indoor tanning equipment by youth under 18, and has become a spokesperson and passionate advocate in Ontario for the Canadian Cancer Society.
Indoor tanning equipment, such as tanning beds, can emit ultraviolet radiation or UVR that is five times stronger than the midday sun. Tanning beds were classified in the highest cancer risk category by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in July 2009. Four years before that, the World Health Organization called on countries to restrict the use of indoor tanning equipment by children under the age of 18.
Since then, countries including France, Germany, Australia, as well as New York and California in the United States, have placed restrictions on youth and tanning beds. In Canada, the provinces of British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Québec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island, have all passed legislation banning youth from using indoor tanning equipment. In Ontario, by-laws have been passed in the Town of Oakville, the Region of Peel and the City of Belleville.
Despite the data and educational resources available (including Health Canada’s voluntary Tanning Safety Guidelines for tanning salon owners, operators and users), Neale says people still believe in the myths of indoor tanning. This includes the false impression that a base tan can protect you from getting a burn or that indoor tanning is a good way to get vitamin D. There are safer ways to get this vitamin: it can be obtained from small amounts of sun exposure and from other sources, such as food and vitamin supplements.
Geneviève Phénix is a spokesperson for the Canadian Cancer Society in Québec and a melanoma cancer survivor. She started tanning at the age of 15, two to three times a week. The now 33-year old has been diagnosed with melanoma twice, once at 24 and again at 26.
“I wanted to have a tan and thought I looked more healthy. I know it’s stupid, but that’s the truth,” says Phénix, who after her tanning sessions would sometimes emerge “red as a lobster.”
“Nothing good comes from this. Nothing.”
Phénix joined the Society and became “the hidden face of tanning salons” – a Society campaign held in 2011. This initiative involved bringing a UV photomaton onto the UQAM campus in Montréal, in order to reveal skin damage in young university students caused by UV rays invisible to the naked eye.
“I have to tell you: people don’t really realize that a tanning bed means cancer,” says Phénix.
If she could go back in time, Neale says she would tell herself that the industry is misguided, the information is misleading, and the tanning workers are being trained with biased information that is only coming from one source.
“Without even noticing I am looking at my skin all the time,” she says. “I live with anxiety every day.”
About the Canadian Cancer Society’s fight against indoor tanning
To take action and support the indoor tanning campaign to get legislation passed in Ontario, you can send a letter to your MPP at http://www.takeaction.cancer.ca. You can also join the conversation via Twitter using the hashtag #tanbedban.
About Kate Neale and Geneviève Phénix
Kate Neale and Geneviève Phénix are the faces of the Canadian Cancer Society’s fight against indoor tanning by youth under the age of 18 in Ontario and Québec, respectively. Neale, currently residing in Belleville, has been instrumental in the passing of the city’s by-law banning the use of tanning equipment by youth.
The Canadian Cancer Society is your best partner in the fight against cancer. We have more impact against more cancers in more communities than any other cancer charity in Canada. Through our mission, we fight more than 200 different types of cancer on numerous fronts. From cancer prevention activities to advocacy efforts on important issues, we give a voice to cancer patients and their families. We also fund world class research and offer free information and support services that are proven to decrease stress and anxiety in patients and family caregivers. The work of the Canadian Cancer Society is supported by our dedicated volunteers and the generous support of our fundraising campaigns, such as Daffodil Month and Relay For Life. To learn more, call 1-888-939-3333.