Lindsey Rue is only 24 years old, but she knows the difference a week can make. The difference a month can make. She knows the power of one simple choice. Of listening to that small voice that urges you to take action. At the age of 22 she noticed a seemingly innocuous mole on her back. She would learn in a matter of days that small mole was cancer.
Rue, a registered nurse at Women’s and Children’s, tanned on occasion in high school and college and, like most young women, never thought she would be a statistic.
“Everyone thinks, ‘I don’t have to worry about this kind of thing until my 50s and then I’ll start checking for moles.’ I was 22 and it slapped me right across the face,” Rue says. “I really caught it early from what I believe was God telling me.”
Rue is not alone. Statistics released in early 2014 show the number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking.
In the U.S. alone, 419,254 cases of skin cancer can be attributed to indoor tanning. Out of this number, 6,199 are melanoma cases. Melanoma cases like Rue’s.
The nurse remembers vividly the day she was rushing to take a shower and felt certain she should look at her back where she noticed a small mole. She thought it appeared darker and had a nagging feeling even though it looked nothing like the moles she had studied in textbooks. Her mom, who is also a nurse, later looked at it and thought it was likely nothing but encouraged her to pursue it for peace of mind. A few days later a dermatologist told her the same thing — it looked fi ne but they would check it just in case.
It wasn’t fine.
Rue had melanoma so deep that had she waited a matter of a few weeks it would likely have spread to her lymph nodes. Instead, she had it removed by a surgeon and lives with a minor 4-inch scar in the middle of her back. She wears it like a badge of honor.
“If I would have waited even a month, I would have had to have chemo. Melanoma spreads that fast,” Rue says.
Rue’s case is not particularly unique. Young women are developing skin cancer at alarming rates. Melanoma in women under 40 has increased eightfold since 1970, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic. Some say it’s better detection, but study after study shows the danger of using tanning beds.
“It’s poison,” says Dr. Christopher Hubbell, a dermatologist at Jeune Medi spa.
While many women crave the bronze skin before they hit the beach, Hubbell says they aren’t doing themselves any favors by heading to a tanning bed.
There is no such thing as the benefit of a “base” tan. It’s all dangerous. But the allure of the tan is hard to resist for many young women.
“You feel prettier when you’re darker and you feel thinner and in college I would tan before socials,” Rue says. “I wouldn’t do it regularly, and I always kind of justified it with the fact that my mom used to cover herself in baby oil in the ’70s and she’s fine.”
But the truth is that some studies show tanning beds deliver 10 to 15 times the power of the sun. And doctors like Hubbell have seen a real increase in skin cancers on the trunk area of women versus the more traditional areas that are exposed daily to the sun.
Hubbell says no matter how you slice it, the sun (in the bed or the beach) should be avoided. He says a widebrimmed hat, high SPF and heading for shelter during peak hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. make all the difference.
“I was really worried about having to be this recluse,”
Rue says. “But I still go in the sun and I run and am outdoors. I just have to be more cautious. I give myself a weekly once over of my skin. I check that constantly.
I wear a hat at the beach or don’t go out in the hottest part of the day. We’re at the beach and I lather up in sunscreen and I’m not anti-sun but I still like being tan.
So, I’ve found places I like to spray tan and it looks nice. You have to adjust things in your life.”