A Death by Suntan at Age 26
For years, Glenna Kohl pursued a tan, both in the sun and in tanning beds — which new research shows are far deadlier than once thought. By 22, she was battling the most lethal form of skin cancer.
In April 2005, while working out at her college gym in Rhode Island, 22-year-old Glenna Kohl detected a hard, golf ball-size lump near her groin. She left the gym and went home to put ice on what seemed like a sports injury.
When her roommate, Courtney Caulfield, now 25, returned to their apartment that evening, Glenna asked her to feel the lump. "I told Glenna she probably pulled a muscle," recalls Courtney. "She wasn't overly worried; she seemed more upset about cutting short her workout."
But the lump hadn't gone away by the time she graduated from Salve Regina University the next month. So Glenna, then living at her parents' home in Massachusetts, visited her family doctor. Puzzled, she referred Glenna to a surgeon, who scheduled a biopsy.
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A few days later, the surgeon handed Glenna and her family a terrifying diagnosis: The lump was melanoma, the deadliest of the three forms of skin cancer. When caught at an earlier stage, melanoma — which typically begins as an irregular-shaped mole or a bump on the skin — is highly curable. But by the time it reaches stage III, as Glenna's had, the cancer has spread beyond the skin and into the lymph nodes (that's why the lump she felt was in her groin, where there's a cluster of lymph nodes). Only about half the people with her level of stage III melanoma survive for 10 years.
The news came as a total shock. "No one in our family knew what melanoma was," recalls Glenna's mother, Colleen Kohl. "We did a lot of crying."
Mystified about how the cancer had reached stage III without Glenna spotting any suspicious moles on her body, the surgeon eventually pored over her medical records. He found something disturbing: In high school, Glenna did have an irregular mole removed from her leg. A pathology report identified it as benign, but the surgeon tested it again. The lab had made an error: The mole was an early stage melanoma.
"We can't know for sure, but her odds of beating melanoma would have been greater had it been diagnosed earlier," says Donald Lawrence, Glenna's oncologist and clinical director of the Center for Melanoma at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center, in Boston.
The misdiagnosis infuriated Glenna's parents. But she didn't share their anger, says her mother. Even when the Kohls' lawyer confirmed they had a case of medical negligence, Glenna — positive thinking and not one to dwell on the what-ifs — agreed to let the lab settle out of court. "She wasn't resentful; she focused on getting better," says her father, Bob. "Back when we all first got the news, it wasn't a matter of if but how soon she'd be cancer-free."
A Deadly Habit
It's hard to imagine a less likely cancer victim than Glenna. Growing up on Cape Cod, she'd always been a stickler for health. A vegetarian, she did yoga, hiked, jogged, and rowed regularly. She was just 5-foot-3 and 105 pounds, yet she was strong enough to work as a beach lifeguard five summers in a row. Health interested her so much that she applied for jobs in nutrition before graduating from college, despite having majored in finance.
But Glenna did indulge in one unhealthy practice: tanning. Like millions of young women, she believed that a bronzed look made her more attractive. While life-guarding, she exposed her naturally pale skin to the sun's rays for 40 hours each week, protected only by sunscreen with an SPF of 4, says her friend and fellow lifeguard Jillian Blumberg. (Dermatologists say that sunscreen with an SPF of 15 is the minimum needed to safeguard skin.)
To maintain that copper glow, Glenna booked time at tanning salons. She began at age 16 and continued through college, baking under a sunlamp as often as once a week.
Though she knew that all that outdoor sun and indoor-tanning time were bad for her skin, she didn't think there was a serious risk. "As health-conscious as Glenna was, she didn't connect tanning with skin cancer," says Colleen.
Yet tanning is connected to skin cancer. Studies have shown that exposure to UV rays can trigger changes to the DNA in skin cells that may lead to cancerous growths. The two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are almost always linked to UV exposure. And 90 percent of cases of the less common but more deadly form, melanoma, also are attributed to UV exposure, says Darrell S. Rigel, MD, a professor of clinical dermatology at New York University.
Sun exposure sans sunscreen is a big culprit. But indoor-tanning beds also can result in cancer. A major report released this past August reclassified tanning beds as "carcinogenic to humans." And a person's melanoma risk rises 75 percent if he or she started using a tanning bed before age 30.
Glenna's diagnosis was, sadly, part of a trend: Melanoma is the second most frequently reported cancer in women in their 20s, and it's third only to breast and thyroid cancers for women in their 30s, reports the National Cancer Institute. "Melanoma is one of the few forms of cancer that's on the rise," says Dr. Rigel. The tan look so desired by young women may explain why 20- and 30-somethings are diagnosed with the disease at alarming rates, he adds.
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Someone doesn't get cancer because she deserves it or didn't do the right things! You can eat right and exercise and still get cancer. Yes, there are things that might increase one's risk factors, but there are people who never tan or spend time in the sun who get melanoma. My aunt, who lives in northern Wisconsin and has never seen a tanning bed - or a tan - in her life, has melanoma. There are non-smokers who get lung cancer. Do not blame the victim. Cancer happens, even to good people who do the right things.
I wrote about this the other day. MSN won't let me post the link, but google "diary of a gold digger" to get to the blog and read the first post. My dad died of cancer, even though he did everything right.
I was recently diagnosed with stage one Melanoma - I was lucky. Let me tell you - everyone should be afraid. Although I have pale skin and remember as a child having some sunburns (sunscreen was not used in those days) I did not actively set out to get a tan and only used tanning beds when I was going south, thinking that it would prevent a burn. Silly me - the only way to prevent a burn is to stay out of the sun and always use a sunscreen - my doctor urged me to use an SPF 100 from now on! My question to everyone is why are you questioning the facts - why would you not do everything you can to prevent Melanoma? I now have to worry about this for the rest of my life, with visits to my dermatologist every six months and sweat it out thinking 1. I have to have more moles removed, causing more scars and (the worst) 2. I have Melanoma again and maybe this time it will be more than stage one. This is not something that runs in my family, I am the first one. At my recent visit to the dermatologist he said he is seeing more and more cases all of the time. Be afraid and be smart! It shouldn't take reading an article to stop and whatever the conflicts in the story are - it shouldn't take away from the facts - it too can happen to you!
I absolutely agree Callie, one SHOULD do research. Luckily I am a physics major and I actually understand what UV radiation is. The following quotes took about 2 minutes on google or wikipedia to find.
It is well known that ionizing UV radiation (the bad kind) is mostly blocked by the Earth's atmosphere, BUT non-ionizing UV radiation has "ionizing-like" biological properties:
"However, the entire spectrum of ultraviolet radiation has some of the biological features of ionizing radiation, in doing far more damage to many molecules in biological systems than is accounted for by simple heating effects (an example is sunburn). These properties derive from the ultraviolet photon's power to alter chemical bonds in molecules, even without having enough energy to ionize atoms." -Wikipedia
UV radiation does lead to DNA damage and is a known carcinogen.
"On April 13, 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classified all categories and wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation as a Group 1 carcinogen. This is the highest level designation for carcinogens and means "There is enough evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans".
Carbs are not a group 1 carcinogen. It is extremely easy to be exposed to UV A/B radiation and, sometimes, only a few minutes are required for "overexposure" (though very little to NONE is actually recommended. UV B leads to vitamin D production, but that can easily be supplemented).
UV exposure is a VERY serious matter and should not be taken lightly. Tanning salons that use UV radiation cannot be logically justified and sunbathing should only be done with a great deal of care and with adequate protection.
The sun is extremely important to out day to day lives; no one disagrees with this. However it is also a dangerous source of radiation.
I also enjoyed your use of quotation marks around the word "findings". It's like you completely disregarded the vast majority of scientific research which points to UV radiation being bad for you. Any health professional with a shred of credibility will tell you that tanning is NOT good for you.
The following organizations have very easy to read information on UV radiation:
Health Canada (Canadian gov. agency)
National Health Service (UK gov. agency)
American Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US gov. agency)
This is a well understood topic. Stop spreading nonsense and making light of the issue.
People are so reluctant to connect tanning - both the natural under-the-sun variety, and the tanning salon variety - with melanoma. It's no wonder cancer rates are on the rise among young women, with melanoma as the second most common cancer among women in their twenties... just another way of ruining our health to satisfy a trend.
I believe the moral of this story is that tanning is unsafe in any form. We are all at risk of contracting skin cancer. You might spend your whole life tanning and never get cancer....then again!!! Are you willing to risk it?
Title should read: Death by Vanity....
Wether you tan inside/outside the chances are always high to get skin cancer. However, I think it was on her GENES.. already to develope and the fact that she spend alot of time out doors during the summer months... (go figure). I am not sure but most people that tan indoors are white and their skin is more "delicate" versus someone like mine (Latino) I do tan indoors once a week but I stop because i don't trust them anymore... Hopefully is not too late
SERIOUSLY, PARENTS NEED TO START TALKING TO THERI KIDS. THIS GIRL WAS JUST 26 AND SHE WAS PROBABALY ACTING LIKE SHE KNOWS EVERYTHING AS IN THE HEALTHIEST AND MOST NORMAL " HOT CHICK " ON EARTH ! PLUS MOST CAUCASIAN OUGHT TO STOP TRYING TO BE LIKE US BLACK FOLKS AS IN " HAVING A WELL TANNED SKIN " !
Okay folks, here's the poop. All in all, this article is questionable. You can smoke or not. You can drink, or not. You can suntan, or not. It comes down to one thing. Your own thoughts. If you wish to believe the rhetoric put forth to the public by scientists, doctors or whomever, that is your choice. Every where you look, their are articles on sleeping, drinking, sun tanning, smoking, eating, etc. etc. etc., all of which may or, may not cause medical, psychological, or physiological changes that again, may or may not, cause some problem with the human body which could shorten ones' lifespan or even extend it. It all depends on your view of the article or what you wish to believe.
If you let every alleged specialist in their particular field dictate how you should live your life, then what is the sense of living? Lets' all just wrap ourselves in a plastic bubble like a gerbil. We can see each other and socialise to some degree, but our environment is controlled. What we eat, drink, or do in life is decided by someone else.
It all comes down to what you choose to do and how you choose to live. Only one person truly knows your body and mind, and that is you. Everybody else is just a suggestion. And I use the word, Everybody, as a term because that is what they are, a suggestion. Yes, they may be right. But they may also be wrong. Opinions. Just opinions.
Spring is just around the corner! What excites you most about the coming season?
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- Warmer weather
- New clothes
- Nature coming back to life
- All of the above
- None of the above