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Teen tanning binges led to melanoma for woman by age 21

Story about melanomrising rates new cases deaths young woman. Lindsay Walsh 23 was diagnosed with late-stage melanomwhen she was 21.

Story about melanoma and rising rates of new cases and deaths in young woman. Lindsay Walsh, 23, was diagnosed with late-stage melanoma when she was 21. She started tanning three to five times a week when she was 16. Many painful surgeries and treatments later, she's in remission. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 24, 2011 12:23AM

Lindsay Walsh knew better. But that didn’t stop her.

Beginning when she was 16, Walsh, of Orland Park, went to a tanning salon three times a week to “get a little color.” If she had a wedding or a dance coming up, she’d go five times a week.

And on spring break trips in high school, she would always “get burned to a crisp” while wearing little or no sunscreen.

Tanning made Walsh, now 23, feel less self-conscious about her pale, Irish skin.

“When I walked out of the tanning bed, I just felt better,” she said.

But then she noticed that a mole on her right thigh kept getting darker. After that, it started bleeding.

In 2009, she was diagnosed with melanoma — a disease she had never heard of. She also learned that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, meaning it had advanced to a potentially life-threatening stage.

“My world came crashing down,” she said.

After many painful surgeries and a year of drug therapy that caused hair and weight loss and skin discoloration, Walsh is now cancer-free.

But her risk of developing a second cancer is 10 times higher than if she had never been diagnosed.

“She has to deal with the very real possibility that this melanoma could take her life, even though, right now, she’s doing fine,” said Walsh’s oncologist, Dr. Jeffrey Wayne, of Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — has become increasingly common in the United States over the past 30 years, particularly among young women and white adults over age 65.

About 68,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and about 8,700 people die, according to the American Cancer Society.

Especially troubling is the more than two-fold increase in melanoma incidence in women between the ages of 15 and 39 since the early 1970s — a trend experts link to increased use of indoor tanning beds.

Many teens and young adults who tan know that ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and premature wrinkling, but they don’t take these risks seriously, surveys indicate.

Walsh used to be one of them. Now, she wants other young women to learn from her mistake. “I knew that tanning was not good for you, but I was never informed of the severity of what it could cause,” she said. “If I would have known that I would be living with 20 scars now and [painful chronic swelling] in my leg, I would never have stepped foot inside a tanning salon.”

“It’s not worth it,” said Walsh, whose battle with cancer inspired her to go to nursing school.

The American Academy of Dermatology encourages people to check their skin periodically for unusual moles or skin lesions that could be a sign of skin cancer. It’s also critical to take precautions, such as wearing SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, hats and other protective clothing when spending time outdoors.

To learn how to perform a skin self-exam or find a free skin-cancer screening, go to

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