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Prevention is the best defense against deadly skin cancers [Letter]

Skin CancerHigh SchoolsSchoolsU.S. Centers for Disease Control and PreventionAmerican Cancer SocietyMaryland General AssemblyJohns Hopkins Hospital

Thanks for your recent editorial supporting a ban on indoor tanning by minors ("Ban the booth," Jan. 20).

As a melanoma survivor, I know the pain and uncertainty of going through treatment for that illness. My melanoma was probably caused by years of being in the outdoors as a kid before sunscreen was even invented. I am grateful for the treatment I received at Johns Hopkins Hospital that saved my life, and I now volunteer for the American Cancer Society to help others fight cancer. I must now wear lots of sun block and a hat any time I'm out in the sun for more than a few minutes.

Prevention is one of the best ways to fight melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Maryland's melanoma rate is among the highest in the country. We clearly don't live in the Sunbelt, so there has to be another explanation.

One reason has to be indoor tanning. Studies have shown that indoor tanning use before the age of 35 increases melanoma risk by 75 percent. You can look around our local shopping centers, especially those near college campuses and high schools, and see the indoor tanning businesses that appeal to youth who are especially apt to use tanning beds.

Prom season is coming up, and many high school girls will get indoor tans because they think tans look good with their prom gowns. But exposure to ultraviolet radiation increases skin cancer risk, and indoor tanning uses UV rays. About a third of high school girls report using tanning beds, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, and the numbers are growing quickly.

The Maryland General Assembly is about to begin debate on this issue in Annapolis. Lawmakers have an opportunity to save lives by prohibiting the use of cancer-causing UV tanning devices by youth under the age of 18. We protect our minors from the dangers of cigarettes and alcohol by placing restrictions on their access; we should do the same with indoor tanning.

James A. Higbee, Towson

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