Guest view: Don't Fry Day and the importance of sun safety and skin cancer prevention
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Guest view: Don't Fry Day and the importance of sun safety and skin cancer prevention

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The coronavirus has caused a lot of uncertainty and turned the world upside down. However, one constant amid the chaos has been the ability to go outside. Being able to get outside has helped me stay healthy while practicing good social distancing. Whether I am hiking on newly discovered trails with my family or going for a run in my neighborhood, I have aimed to get outside at least once a day.

As the days get longer and warmer and the sun gets more intense, I also want to remind Montanans about the importance of sun safety and skin cancer prevention. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and Friday, May 22, is National Don’t Fry Day, a day to educate people about the risks of overexposure to sun.

Sun safety is a cause that is very important to me. In fact, as Miss Montana 2019, my social impact initiative is "Love the Skin You’re In: Skin Cancer Prevention and Education." I’m proud to be working with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to promote sun safety, skin cancer prevention and the need for indoor tanning restrictions to protect teens from cancer risk.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States and rates have been rising over the past 30 years. This year, 450 Montanans will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious and deadliest form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is also the second-most common cancer in young women ages 15 to 29.

However, skin cancer is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. In fact, the most avoidable risk factor for skin cancer is the use of indoor tanning device.

Research shows that use of indoor tanning devices before age 35 increases risk for melanoma by 59%, and rates increase even more when tanning before age 25. The effects of UV radiation are so harmful that local, state, national and international officials are calling for additional restrictions on the use of tanning devices, especially among youth under age 18. The World Health Organization categorizes indoor tanning devices as “carcinogenic to humans,” the highest cancer risk category and the same classification as tobacco. The FDA recommends these devices should not be used by people under age 18.

Unfortunately, the desire for a tanned appearance still causes many people, especially young adults and teenagers, to ignore the serious risks and health warnings and continue to use indoor tanning devices. Young people are also especially susceptible to the tanning industry’s misleading and dangerous marketing tactics, which include back-to-school, prom and homecoming specials designed to make teens think tanning is “cool.” These campaigns are concerning because teens are tanning at increasingly high rates: 1 in 13 high school girls have used a tanning device, with numbers increasing to 1 in 8 by their senior year. In Montana, 1 in 5 female high school students report using indoor tanning devices.

Given these alarming statistics, it’s critical to do more to protect teens in Montana from skin cancer. However, we cannot do this alone. Seeking shade, using sunscreen, and wearing sunglasses and protective clothing is important outside, but we need Montana lawmakers to take action and pass legislation to protect young people from the dangers of indoor tanning.

Currently, 20 states and D.C. have enacted comprehensive laws preventing people under 18 from using tanning devices.

Montana does not have such a law, and unfortunately legislation failed during the 2019 session. ACS CAN has been trying to pass this lifesaving law for the past three legislative sessions and will continue this important work when the legislature returns to Helena in 2021.

To join our efforts, visit www.fightcancer.org/states/montana and help us prevent skin cancer in Montana.

Mo Shea of Helena is Miss Montana 2019.

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