by Didi Peccia
Didi Peccia is a small business owner in Helena.
Jan Peccia was not only my sister-in-law, she was my best friend. We raised our babies together and we went into business together. She and I co-owned Montana Book and Toy Company and Augustine Properties in Helena. But in 2013 Jan was diagnosed with melanoma and died just 22 months later.
May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and it is the perfect time to shed light on the dangers of skin cancer. Many young people hear the dangers of skin damage and skin cancer caused by sun exposure and tanning devices, but don’t pay attention to them. These warnings are very real. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country. Roughly 400,000 cases in the United States each year are caused by indoor tanning. Tanning also causes roughly 4,000 cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, each year. An estimated 350 people in Montana are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma this year.
Indoor tanning is so dangerous that the World Health Organization lists artificial tanning devices in the same carcinogenic category as asbestos and tobacco. And, the FDA reclassified tanning beds so that manufacturers must include a visible black box warning to advise against use by teens.
Despite these dangers, misconceptions about the risks and benefits of tanning are prevalent, in part due to false information from the tanning industry. Tan skin is not healthy skin. Having a tan actually means your skin or skin cells are damaged.
Montana’s youth are at greatest risk for damage from tanning because a young person’s skin is still developing. And teens are tanning at an alarming rate. In the past year, one in five high school girls nationwide reported tanning; that number grew to one in four by senior year. Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer among 15-29 year olds and the third most common cancer in people aged 29-35. What’s even scarier is that tanning before age 35 increases a person’s risk for melanoma by 59 percent.
Jan wanted everyone to know the importance of keeping your skin healthy and watching for abnormal changes to moles. I want to honor Jan’s legacy and protect teens by promoting healthy skin and avoiding the dangers of tanning beds. Montana does not have any age restrictions on tanning – but we can change that. As someone who lost a loved one to a preventable type of cancer, I want to educate my state lawmakers about this important issue. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and other health organizations hope to work with legislators in 2017 to restrict access to tanning devices for children under 18.
Until we pass an age restriction on tanning, too many of our youth will expose themselves to harmful UV rays. And more people will continue to lose their loved ones to skin cancer.