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Reaching out for skin cancer awareness

Reaching out for skin cancer awareness

Outreach program targets rising melanoma rates

Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is also one of the fastest-growing cancers in Iowa. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports the number of new melanoma cases in the state is up 284 percent since the 1970s. And among young people age 15 to 29, melanoma is now the second most common form of cancer.

John Vander Zee, MD, medical director for Melanoma and Advanced Skin Cancer Care notes, “We’ve seen a significant increase in the young adult population coming to our melanoma clinic.” The Melanoma and Advanced Skin Cancer Care Clinic at the Community Cancer Center specializes in invasive and non-invasive melanoma and other forms of skin cancer in patients of all ages.

Dr. Vander Zee, says one possible reason for the increase in melanoma is the popularity of tanning beds. Indoor tanning is potentially more harmful than sun exposure because of the greater intensity of its ultraviolet radiation. In a 2010 study, people who first used a tanning bed before age 35 increased their risk of melanoma by 75 percent.

Kimberly Ivester, Administrative Director, Nassif Community Cancer Center and Director, Cancer Care, UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital, says the goal of the Community Cancer Center’s outreach program is to raise awareness of the risk factors for melanoma. “It is so important for youth to know tanning habits they may have now have lasting consequences.”

The Community Cancer Center works closely with local schools to spread the word about indoor tanning and skin cancer. Our team talks to classes and hand out educational materials in school cafeterias. We also use a Dermascan—a machine that highlights skin damage not visible to the naked eye. Other outreach activities include meeting with lifeguards and distributing sunscreen at swimming pools and ballparks.

Two years ago, the Community Cancer Center was the first in the community to launch a “Ban the Tan” campaign for local high schools. The Community Cancer Center provided posters and educational materials to assist student leaders and health classes at the schools with educating their peers on the dangers of tanning and encourage students to sign a pledge not to indoor tan.

Joe Martin, physical education teacher at Springville High School, says 92 percent of their students took the pledge to not indoor tan. “The kids themselves got involved in promoting it,” says Martin. “We do a lot of activities here to raise cancer awareness. It seems everyone knows someone who’s been affected by cancer of some type.”

The Community Cancer Center is holding the “Ban the Tan” contest again this year. In addition, we are reaching out to school PTO groups to educate parents. This is essential as parents need to understand the health risks to their children when they use tanning beds.

“We also work with companies like MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy, which have a high percentage of outdoor workers,” adds Ivester. “We want them to know their risk and also to understand how their kids may be at risk.”

For more information on the outreach program and the Advanced Melanoma and Skin Cancer Clinic, call (319) 588-4876.

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