How A Tanning Bed Gave Tawny Willoughby Skin Cancer (& 8 Factors That Can Increase Your Risk)

by Dr. Jonathan D'Souza

While most of us like to hit the beach or visit tanning parlors to get that envious color, have we ever considered the health risks associated with excessive tanning?

27-year-old Tawny Willoughby, a mother and nurse at Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital, Alabama, frequented tanning parlors during her teen years as her tans faded too quickly. In her quest for the ideal tan, she underwent tanning sessions at least four times a week.

“I had my own personal tanning bed in my home and so did a lot of my friends growing up… everyone tanned. I didn’t really even think about the future or skin cancer at the time,” she told CNN.

Little did she know that her tanning fixation could give her skin cancer. Tawny was first diagnosed with skin cancer at the age of 21. Since then she has had squamous cell carcinoma once and basal cell carcinoma (the most common form of skin cancer) five times.

She recently posed her picture on Facebook showing scars resulting from repeated skin cancer treatment sessions with her dermatologist.

“If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here you go! This is what skin cancer treatment can look like,” she posted on Facebook.

Skin cancer is probably the most common type of cancer in fair-skinned people. Knowing which factors can put you at risk will not only help preventing it, but also make sure you get treatment on time. We list out the other major ones for you:

1) Light Hair, Freckles & Fair Skin
Skin cancer is more prominent in people who have a lighter skin tone, especially fair skin that tends to freckle or burn easily. People with light brown, blonde or red hair and blue or green eyes may be at risk due to a lower melanin content in the tissue.

2) A Weak Immune System
A person’s immune system is a major defense mechanism against cancers of the skin and other organs. People who have a weak immune system as a result of certain medical treatments (such as organ transplants in which medicines are given to weaken the immune system to avoid organ rejection), or certain diseases (such as HIV) also have an increased possibility of developing skin cancer. (Also read: 5 Wonder Herbs To Boost Immunity)

3) Presence Of Moles
Moles are non-cancerous (benign) pigmented skin tumors present on the skin. While some moles can be harmless, people who develop moles later on in life are at an increased risk. Such people should have their skin checked every year by a dermatologist to rule out the possibility of cancer.

4) Gender
Men are twice as likely to develop skin cancer than women and it’s the most common type of cancer in men over the age of 50. What’s shocking is the fact that the disease is more common than lung, colon and prostate cancer in men.

5) Harmful Chemicals
Exposure to large amounts of certain chemicals such as paraffin, coal tar and arsenic compounds is another risk factor.

6) Xeroderma Pigmentosum
A rare, inherited condition, it affects the skin cells’ ability to repair DNA damage. People with the condition have a higher risk, too.

7) Frequent Sunburns
While sunlight is the chief source of ultraviolet radiation, sun lamps and tanning beds may also cause sunburns. Frequent exposure to these UV rays can damage cellular DNA and increase your chances of skin cancer.

8) Family Medical History
People with first-degree relatives (parents, siblings or child) who have the disease have a higher chance of developing it. A possible explanation for this could be the presence of a mutated gene that runs in the family, familial tendency to have a fair skin tone, or a shared lifestyle that involves frequent exposure to the sun. People with a family history of skin cancer must:

  • Have a yearly skin checkup by a dermatologist.
  • Self-examine their skin thoroughly once a month.
  • Avoid exposure to harmful UV rays (such as in tanning beds).
  • Use sunscreen while out in the sun.

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page. Read more about Diseases & Conditions here.

Read More:
Your Must-Know Guide To Melanoma Skin Cancer

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