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January 21st, 2013

Canadian Cancer Society challenges teens to skip indoor tanning and hold a tan-free grad

News Desk

The Canadian Cancer Society is challenging teens to skip indoor tanning and organize a Tan-Free Grad campaign in their high school to help educate their friends and peers about the health risks associated with tanning beds this grad season.

New this year, students can apply online (www.cancer.ca/tanfreegrad) for a $300 grant, which they can use to develop their Tan-Free Grad campaign. The application deadline is February 15, 2013.

“As teens start to plan for their grad, many will use tanning beds to get what they think is a “healthy glow”,” says Julie Datta, Sr. Coordinator, Prevention, Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division. “What they may not realize, is that tanning beds cause skin cancer – one of the most common yet preventable types of cancer. Organizing a Tan-Free Grad is one way teens can flip the myth that ‘a tan equals beauty’ on its head.”

Results from a 2012 Canadian Cancer Society survey found that 16% of Ontario students in Grades 11 and 12 are using tanning beds; up from 7% in 2006.

In 2009, the world’s foremost authority in identifying the causes of cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified ultraviolet radiation devices, including tanning beds, as known carcinogens. The Canadian Cancer Society has taken up the issue of youth tanning because tanning bed use before the age of 35 significantly increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma skin cancer is also one of the most common and deadliest forms of cancer among people ages 15 to 29 and is also one of the most preventable.

Meet Kate Neale, a 22-year-old melanoma cancer survivor and former tanning industry employee

Kate Neale, a 22-year-old melanoma cancer survivor and Canadian Cancer Society volunteer, is encouraging teens across Ontario to help spread the word with their friends about the dangers of indoor tanning by organizing a Tan-Free Grad campaign in their school.

As a teenager growing up in Belleville, Kate wanted to be tanned. Against the wishes of her parents and regardless of the fact that she had fair and sunburn-prone skin, Kate started indoor tanning at age 16. In the beginning, she tanned two or three times a week but soon ended up going for 12 to 16 minutes in the highest UVB pressured bed (double strength) sessions up to 16 times per month.

In May 2011, while visiting her parents, Kate’s mother noticed that a freckle on her daughter’s stomach had changed. A visit to a dermatologist and a biopsy later confirmed that the freckle was actually melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Over the next few weeks, Kate underwent three more biopsies for skin lesions on her right breast, leg and arms.

“I’ll never forget going to the surgeon’s office with my mom — he thought she was the patient. When he realized that I was the patient, he told me I was the youngest

person he’d ever treated for melanoma. I was only 21,” says Kate. “Fortunately my cancer was found at an early stage when it was non-invasive. Today, I have a six-inch scar on my stomach and live with so much fear.”

Kate’s battle with skin cancer is not over. Frequently new spots appear on her skin and she says they are always changing. Kate had a biopsy last June, which left her with eight stiches on her left breast, and she has had a total of ten spots removed since then. While the results indicated that the spots were pre-cancerous, she is okay because they were caught early. Repeated doctors’ visits and the stress and anxiety of the situation have taken their toll on her academic and work career. Last January, Kate left Ottawa and headed back to live with her parents.

“I want every teen to be aware that the dangers of indoor tanning are very real. I hope my story inspires and empowers teens to take action and organize a Tan-Free Grad in their school,” says Kate.

Tan-Free Grad is a Canadian Cancer Society youth-led initiative that empowers Ontario teens to fight skin cancer. During the campaign, student leaders use creative and engaging ways to educate their friends and classmates about the dangers of indoor tanning.

In 2012, 21 high schools in Ontario participated in the Tan-Free Grad campaign, where over 1,100 students pledged to be tan-free and over 750 letters to MPPs were collected asking that indoor tanning be banned for youth under 18.

For 75 years, the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the fight for life. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research and support Canadians touched by cancer. From this foundation, we will work with Canadians to change cancer forever so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website at cancer.ca or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY: 1-866-786-3934).

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