U department offers skin cancer screenings

Emily Banks

Epidemiology professor DeAnn Lazovich showed a slide of bronzed bikini- and Speedo-clad bodies to her audience.

“People today often think a tan is a mark of beauty or health,” she said Saturday morning at an Ask the Experts series sponsored by the University’s Cancer Center.

“Tan skin is damaged skin,” she said.

Today, the first Monday of May, marks the nationally recognized Melanoma Monday, and the University’s department of dermatology will offer free skin cancer screenings to promote awareness and early detection.

Cancer Center nurse manager Marva Bohen said that in the past the screenings filled quickly and that this year people should arrive early.

Lazovich said the American Cancer Society estimates more than 1 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year.

She also said Minneapolis ranks first for the number of tanning businesses out of 80 surveyed cities.

“If it seems like there’s a tanning salon around every corner, it might be accurate,” she said.

Many Minnesotans begin indoor tanning “sometime in adolescence,” she said, and that’s also when young people take up high-risk behaviors.

“They think they’re immune to lung cancer so they smoke. They drink alcohol or use drugs,” she said. “The effects seem a long time off and there’s a perception that, It won’t happen to me.”

First-year journalism student Jessica Donner works at Neon Sun tanning salon in Stadium Village.

“(Tanning) is bad for your skin, obviously, but our boss requires us to tan,” she said, and she tans once a week.

Before starting the job at the tanning salon, she said she tanned for special occasions like prom or dances, so she’d “have a little glow.”

She said she sometimes thinks about the risk of skin cancer.

“But most of the time I just put it in the back of my mind because it hasn’t happened to me,” she said.

Donner said a friend of hers who tans frequently was diagnosed with skin cancer.

“I thought people getting skin cancer would be older, more wrinkly,” she said.

Julie Cronk, a dermatology professor and dermatologist, shook her finger at the audience of mostly elderly people at Saturday’s event.

“There is no such thing as a safe tan, so you can get that out of your head,” she said.

She compared tan models on the covers of magazines to images of pregnant women drinking alcohol or someone smoking, acts generally assumed to be unhealthy.

Cronk said intense intermittent exposure to the sun – especially Minnesota’s weather when people go outside as soon as it’s nice, stay indoors to heal from a sunburn then go back outside to tan – increases a person’s risk of melanoma.

She recommended applying at least a shot glass amount of water resistant, SPF 15 sunscreen to the body, wearing clothes that cover shoulders and wearing wide-brimmed hats.

“If your shadow is shorter than you, seek shade,” she said.

Too much exposure to the sun can lead to wrinkled skin, immune suppression and sunburn, she said.

She encouraged people to check themselves for irregular moles with melanoma’s ABCDE test: asymmetry, border irregularity, more than one color, a diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser and evolution of the mole.

If those symptoms appear, a person could have melanoma, which is one type of skin cancer, she said.

“Every time you’re getting a tan, you’re damaging your skin,” she said.