Melanoma Survivor Warns Teens to Ditch Tanning

As a teen, Donna Warner worshiped the sun from dawn to dusk. Eager to achieve a bronze complexion like her dark-haired siblings, her fair skin took a beating. Ignoring the painful sunburns she often endured, Donna continued to tan for many years. She would frequent tanning salons during the colder months to maintain her tan, and eventually purchased an indoor tanning bed for her home.

Three years ago, during a routine check-up with her primary care physician, she mentioned a sore on her nose that wouldn't heal. A consultation with a dermatologist revealed basal cell carcinoma. After closer inspection, an additional spot on her back gave her the scare of her life.

She was home alone when she received the phone call from her doctor. The pathology showed melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer and one of the most common types of cancer in those under the age of 30.

Now cancer free, Donna hopes her story will prevent teens from heading down the same road. She learned a very important lesson that she wants to share with anyone who tans: “Tanning isn’t worth it. Your life is too important.”

In the near future, indoor tanning beds could carry prominent warning labels indicating that children younger than 18 should not use them and that people who do use them need regular cancer screening. Learn more about this proposal from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

From The Expert

Roswell Park’s Ilene Rothman, MD, shares some advice:

Exposure to UV radiation—whether from the sun or from tanning beds—increases the risk of developing skin cancer. The risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is 74 percent higher in those who use tanning beds. Avoid tanning beds, aim for the shade, and apply sunblock of at least SPF 30 every 2-3 hours whenever you are in the sun. It’s also important to practice skin self-exams to check for any changing or irregular moles or sores that do not heal.