The possible predecessor to 2012’s “New Jersey Tan Mom” stepped forward in late spring this year in an apparent attempt to claim the title.
Tawny Willoughby, a 27-year-old mother from Kentucky, decided to post horrific Selfies portraying what she claimed was the result of using tanning beds in her teens. The story and pics went viral, covered by most of mainstream media and re-broadcast by many small town news programs that would grab a local dermatologist for comment, professing the dangers of indoor tanning. ABC, NBC, CNN and others jumped at the opportunity to run with the story. Six years earlier, she had made her first dermatology appointment and was diagnosed with skin cancer.
Though the reports left out important facts such as her lifetime history of incidental or deliberate UV exposure from the sun (like at a pool or lake), they did point out that Ms. Willoughby admitted to using a home tanning bed at least four to five times a week. Well, you can’t regulate common sense! They also omitted the number of weeks, months or years she had actually been tanning indoors.
Remember these facts the next time your salon guests mention a sensational news report on skin cancer.
As our industry is aware, the FDA regulates sunbeds and sunlamps and every sunbed in this country is labeled with an exposure schedule formulated per skin type. Ms. Willoughby would be a skin type I by definition, and by tanning on a sunbed with her claimed regularity, she was clearly violating the FDA’s recommended exposure schedule.
The disturbing picture of her face posted on Facebook (too graphic for inclusion here) and used for the media releases looked like she had received a skin treatment that may be defined as chemical peel. Well, it could very well be. Recently, Ms. Willoughby admitted on social media to using a crème for treatment: “The skin cancers I mentioned in the post were on my body actually, and I do have scars from those. My face has multiple precancerous spots, which is what we treated with the cream.” Could it have been the medication called Imiquimod Cream that is used to treat superficial basal cell carcinoma as well as genital warts? Interestingly, her face was clear and clean during the TV interviews. Read more on this medication.
The media overlooked (and usually does) the research available on the latency period of skin cancer. William B. Grant, Ph.D. and noted epidemiologist, has spent years researching the effects of UV exposure on the skin and offered the following information on skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma) latency: “A latency period of 20-50 years is typical between the time of UV damage and the clinical onset of BCC. Therefore, in most cases BCC develops on chronically sun-exposed skin in elderly people.” The role of UV radiation in the development of basal cell carcinoma.
So, research shows that it takes 20-50 years between the time of UV damage and the clinical onset of basal cell carcinoma. That’s quite a leap, then, for a conclusive finger to point to tanning beds causing this young girl’s facial maladies, wouldn’t you agree?
Each year, “Melanoma Monday” is publicized as a time for people to self-examine for skin cancer. Willoughby’s news clip ran in early May, definitely in sync with the plethora of news shows talking about skin cancer. Fox News ran with Dr. Adam Friedman of New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, who correctly pointed out that “skin cancer is more prevalent in fair-skinned people” but then went on to say that, “new treatments hold promise for turning a death sentence into many years of life.”
A skin cancer diagnosis is not a “death sentence.” In fact, dying from basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma is rare. Why does the National Cancer Institute (arguably the best statistic source for cancer in the U.S.) SEER report only provide statistics for melanoma but not basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma? Here’s the answer. According to the National Institutes for Health/National Center for Biotechnology Information: “The exact prevalence of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is not known, as reporting of these malignancies to cancer registries is not mandatory. Patients with NMSC are seen and treated by physicians within many different specialties, which further complicates tracking methods.”
The public is mostly unaware that those who intend to shut down the indoor tanning industry are using these estimates obtained from physicians who are not cancer specialists. Who is going to question a “white coat?” Well, let’s check the facts.
The actual statistics for melanoma is something of which the National Cancer Institute does keep track. According to their 2012 SEER report, there are six cases of melanoma per 100,000 in females age 25-29. For females age 30-34, it’s about nine cases per 100,000. They also report 1.2 fatalities per 100,000 people for females < 35 years of age. Look, one cancer fatality is one too many; but it’s estimated that in 2015 overall, there will be 1,658,370 cancer cases reported. Melanoma makes up only 4.5 percent of the incidence and 1.7 percent of all cancer fatalities. An estimated 9,900 people die each year from melanoma with the majority being males, and almost 98 percent are over age 35. The median age is 69. The indoor tanning industry is overwhelmingly female and under age 35. Further, breast and lung cancers far surpass melanoma with over 250,000 females diagnosed each year with breast cancer. Note also that as melanoma incidence has increased, the fatality rate has remained relatively unchanged over the last decade.
If indoor tanning is being pushed (by some) as the leading factor in skin cancer incidence, wouldn’t it follow that young females would be ridden with melanoma? Why hasn’t the fatality rate changed if more cases are being diagnosed? Public service announcements (PSAs) run heavy in the spring of each year (rarely around the holidays) as millions flock to pools, beaches, lakes and tanning salons after a winter absence of UV. So, people are urged to use sunscreens and to get at least a yearly skin exam. Better treatment methods may reduce mortality (which is a good thing), but it stands to reason that the incidence rate certainly may have increased because more people are getting skin cancer check-ups. Perhaps that is because that exam is one of the least invasive of all cancer screenings. Remember these facts the next time you see a report on skin cancer.
For more factual information on skin cancer statistics, visit.
A 26-year industry veteran, Joe has taught certified salon operator training for the last 15 years, as well as advocating indoor tanning in many capacities. Joe is a sought-after speaker and presenter at both national & regional trade events, also interacting with the FDA, state & local regulatory agencies. During his most recent tenure with the ITA, he served as director of membership.
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