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Young melanoma patients regret indoor tanning

In 2014 no one under 18 will be allowed tan commercial tanning salIllinois even with parental permission.  | PRNewsFoto/ETS

In 2014 no one under 18 will be allowed to tan at a commercial tanning salon in Illinois, even with parental permission. | PRNewsFoto/ETS Tan LLC

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Updated: May 31, 2011 7:28PM

Samantha Hessel loved a golden tan. She began going to tanning salons before her freshman prom. She returned to the tanning salon before dances and the summer beach season.

“I knew about the risk but I was in denial,” Hessel says. “I thought, ‘That’s not going to affect me.’ ” Then, when Hessel was 19, she learned that the mole above her elbow was melanoma, which kills 8,700 Americans a year.

Hessel, now 21, is one of a growing number of young women who have developed melanoma after years at tanning salons. Since 1992, rates of melanoma — once considered an old person’s disease — have risen 3 percent a year in white women 15 to 39, the American Cancer Society says.

Shonda Schilling, wife of former baseball player Curt Schilling, founded the Shade Foundation after surviving melanoma at age 33. She, too, spent much of her youth tanning, both in the sun and in salons. Although treatment probably cured Schilling’s cancer, the five surgeries also left her with 25 scars across her back.

“I was so scared I was going to die,” she says. Now, at age 44, she says, “my mission is to educate the kids.”

About 35 percent of 17-year-old girls use tanning machines, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The link between indoor tanning and cancer is clear, says Tim Turnham of the Melanoma Research Foundation. People who have used tanning beds are 74 percent more likely than others to develop melanoma, a 2010 study shows.

Science shows that the risk of melanoma is directly related to how often people have tanned, says Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

“We really need to raise the alarm and address this more directly,” Lichtenfeld says. “The connection is more solid than it has ever been before.”

Emerging research, from scientists at Harvard Medical School, Wake Forest University and others, even suggests that the ultraviolet radiation used in tanning beds can be addictive.

Kimberly Bargielski says that’s easy to believe. She had never tried a tanning bed before taking a job at a salon when she was 17. Soon, she was tanning five times a week.

“I often thought, ‘Why am I doing this? I was just there yesterday,’ ” says Bargielski, now 31.

Teenagers are especially resistant to hearing about the risks, Hessel says.

Although only 15 when she went to her first tanning salon, Hessel says no one asked for her ID. She paid for sessions with her own money, in spite of her mother’s disapproval.

A growing chorus of critics say children should not be allowed to use tanning beds.

The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Dermatology and World Health Organization all have called on states to ban children under 18 from tanning salons.

Gannett News Service

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