Survivor describes trip from tanning bed to cancer ward

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Cancer patients and survivors described the dangers of indoor tanning to members of the Legislature on Wednesday. Safeguarding teens was the focus of the annual American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Day at the Capitol event.

“Everyone has concerns about the increase in cancer,” said Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando. “I’m here to listen and have an open mind.”

Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today

Melanoma survivor Susan Akin, who regularly tanned for 20 years, urges legislators on Jan. 18 to ban the use of tanning beds by anyone under age 18.

Mississippi should send the message that tanning beds are dangerous and deadly to the younger generation, said Susan Akin, a lifelong Mississippian and survivor of melanoma — one of the most deadliest forms of skin cancer.

“We’ve protected children under the age of 18 from lung cancer, from liver disease and even from serving our country in the military. Surely, they deserve to be protected from skin cancer and the many other life-altering effects of indoor tanning,” Akin said.

Burning from exposure to ultra-violent light, such as indoor tanning beds, puts individuals under the age of 18 at higher risks for skin cancer later in life, said state epidemiologist Paul Byers.

Indoor tanning use before age 35 increases melanoma risk by 59 percent. In 2009, indoor tanning was labeled as a carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Byers said that in the United States more than 80,000 cases of melanoma are reported each year and lead to roughly 10,000 deaths. In Mississippi, over 500 cases of melanoma are reported each year and lead to about 70 deaths. Between 2009 and 2013, there were more than 100 cases of melanoma in people between the ages of 15 and 21 in Mississippi.

Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today

State epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers speaks at American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Day at the Capitol event Jan. 18.

“We know that tanning bed use often starts in early adolescence and increases in teen years and into the 20s,” said Byers. “We support legislation to prohibit the use of indoor tanning for individuals under the age of 18.”

Twelve other states have enacted prohibitions, and the use of tanning in those states has decreased for people under age 18, he said.

Akin told her story of how using tanning beds excessively almost ended her life.

Beginning at age 15, Akin used tanning beds as much as nine months out of the year. Indoor tanning had become a part of her daily lifestyle.

Akin said she never thought about the effects tanning would have on her body, her organs and even her cells.

After 20 years of tanning, Akin was diagnosed with melanoma in 2006, while in the late stages of pregnancy with her second child. This forced early childbirth and surgery, which was successful, but a year later the melanoma returned.

“With a three-year-old daughter, 16-month-old daughter and a two-month-old son, I was told my odds of survival were slim to none,” said Akin. However, a combination of treatments ultimately were successful.

In 2016, bills that would ban minors from using indoor tanning beds were introduced in the Mississippi House and Senate. They did not pass.

“There’s no straight route to this,” said Christina Wright, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network volunteer and state lead ambassador. She said educating legislators takes time, but she has gotten positive feedback from members of the Senate and hopes for similar response from House members.