Winter is coming…
For some people, that means hopping on a plane or cruise and chasing the sun! Others will take a faster route and opt for their local tanning salon to get their dose of artificial sunshine. You might want to think twice, however, after hearing this story from a 34-year-old mother-of-two from Chicago, Illinois.
Carrie Doles first started using tanning beds at college when she was 18-years-old. But it wasn’t just a treat every once in a while. For four years straight, Doles would visit the tanning salon almost every night after class with friends.
“It was euphoric, I guess. I guess you could say I was on a high after I had my tan,” said Doles. (1) “It became an addiction. If I missed a day, I would become depressed.”
This bad tanning bed habit continued after college for four more years… until Doles’ doctor diagnosed her at the age of 26 with Basal Cell Carcinoma, a type of non-melanoma skin cancer. Her doctor removed it and left her with two simple instructions: 1) stay out of the sun and 2) stay away from tanning beds.
“I didn’t heed his warning, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, I was always told that the basal cell cancer was the good kind of cancer if you’re going to have a skin cancer, so I continued to tan after that.” (1)
What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Doles kept going to tanning salons even after her doctor’s warning – and we can see why. This type of skin cancer is, in fact, the least risky. And, with early enough detection and treatment, basal cell carcinoma can even be cured.
Although the cancer can stay hidden for years after a tanning history like Doles’, there are ways to tell when it does arise. The tumors can present themselves wherever ultraviolet (UV) rays have reached your skin as small, shiny bumps. (2)
After intense or long exposure to UV rays, the DNA in your skin cells become damaged. When this damage occurs, that is when basal cell carcinoma can form. People are exposed to UV radiation naturally from sunlight, but also through man-made sources such as sunlamps and tanning beds. (3)
Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma can look different from person to person. (2)
- Small, pearly bumps (like a mole or pimple that won’t go away)
- Skin growth could take a dome shape with blood vessels in it (and can be pink, brown, or black)
- Growths can look dark
- Growths might also appear as slightly scaly, shiny pink or red patches
- Waxy, hard skin growth
- Can be fragile and bleed easily
Shortly after getting the cancerous spot on her leg removed, Doles noticed another spot on her face. With her wedding around the corner, she waited until after to go in for a biopsy. Again, it was basal cell carcinoma. What she didn’t expect to hear was that the cancer cells were spreading like wildfire. So, they began treatments immediately.
Carrie Doles’ Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment
There are many treatment options for this type of cancer, including freezing cancer cells or radiation therapy. But Doles opted to have the tumor and surrounding area numbed and then cut out.
“I heard them cutting into my skin,” Doles said. “When they finally said that the cancer cells were removed, I was left with a huge hole on the side of my face… I’m more than likely going to have another couple of bouts of skin cancer. Now that I’ve had it, my risks are very high.” (1)
During her surgery, cutting away the cancer affected some of the nerves in her face. So, she can’t do things like raise her left eyebrow and suffers from crippling headaches that feel like she’s “being struck by lightning.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, over “4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. In fact, BCC is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers.” (4) With such high chances of the average person getting basal cell carcinoma, the last thing people should do is frequent tanning salons.
In addition to things such as early aging, wrinkles, sagging skin, age spots and BCC, “people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.” (5)
Preventative Cancer Tips from Doles and Doctors
After three run-ins with skin cancer, Doles has never cared more for her skin. She even shares her story in schools to help students avoid making the same mistakes she did as a teenager and young adult.
- She wears SPF thirty “all day every day” before applying her makeup and even in the winter
- She doesn’t bathe in the sun anymore and also wears a large-brimmed hat
- In short, she says, stop tanning – your skin will thank you when you’re older (6)
Dermatologist Dr. Carolyn Jacob also suggests getting checked sooner than later. Timing can make a world of difference.
“If you have a spot on your skin that won’t go away, that bleeds on its own, that won’t heal up, or looks like a shiny bump and is new but does not go away, you want to go see your board-certified dermatologist to make sure you don’t have skin cancer.
So, if you’ve ever used an indoor tanning bed, you should see a board-certified dermatologist for a mole exam so that we can make sure your skin looks normal and that you haven’t developed any one of these skin cancers.” (1)
Guidelines for Basal Cell Carcinoma Prevention
- Never use (or stop using) UV tanning beds
- Don’t get sunburned
- Wear a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
- Thirty minutes before going outside, apply 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to your whole body
- Seek the shade (especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
- Every month, examine your skin head to toe
- Visit your board-certified dermatologist once a year for a skin exam (7)
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