Co-authored with Lisa McGovern
Cancer is a scary disease, and one that affects nearly everyone in some way. The good news is that in the past 30 years, we have learned a lot about how to prevent cancer and stop it before it starts. We know more now than ever before about the healthy choices we and our families can make to reduce our cancer risk. But even with everything we've learned, some of us are still being fooled into thinking our choices are safe, when really they are increasing our cancer risk. It is especially troubling that so many young people are being misled about the hazards of e-cigarettes and indoor tanning.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of lung cancer, and many Americans now know how critical it is to avoid tobacco. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of people of all ages are being fooled into thinking new devices like e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that create an aerosol the user inhales. They contain harmful chemicals and toxins that can cause health problems, including cancer, as well as nicotine -- typically derived from tobacco -- which is addictive.
E-cigarettes are particularly dangerous for kids because they are not currently regulated at the federal level and can be sold to minors in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Youth e-cigarette use is now surpassing youth smoking, and continuing to rise. In 2014, nearly 4 percent of middle school students and 13 percent of high school students were using e-cigarettes.
As we move into spring, we also see a lot of teenagers trying to get tan before spring break vacation or prom. Many are being fooled into believing that indoor tanning is a safe alternative to sun exposure -- but it is not. When you use a tanning bed or sun lamp, you are still exposing yourself to ultraviolet (UV) rays, which is what leads to cancer.
Skin cancer is both the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the most preventable. In our lifetimes, we have seen significant progress in this area. When we were growing up, it was not uncommon to see young people -- and especially women -- wrap a record album cover in aluminum foil to create a sun-reflecting visor to magnify the sun's rays. We were guilty ourselves and now we're paying the price. But in the words of Maya Angelou, now that we know better, we do better. We wear sunscreen, hats, and lip balm, seek shade and teach our kids to do the same. We wish we would have known then what we know now.
But so many are still being fooled into indoor tanning, especially young women. As indoor tanning becomes more prevalent in our society, cancer rates are rising to match. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is now the most common cancer in women ages 25-29. In fact, melanoma rates are now eight times higher than they were in 1970. It's becoming a big problem on college campuses, where tanning beds are offered as a "perk" in many off-campus living facilities, and some students are even able to pay for tanning sessions at local salons with their campus cash cards. Tan skin might be the "in" look now, but it's just not worth putting yourself at increased risk for cancer that can be painful, disfiguring and even fatal.
There's a lot we know now about what we can do to stay healthy -- but it's also pretty easy to be misled. April Fool's Day is a good time to remember: don't be fooled. To learn more about making healthy choices to reduce your cancer risk, visit www.preventcancer.org.
Rep. Debbie Dingell and Lisa McGovern
Debbie Dingell is a member of the United States House of Representatives, representing Michigan's 12th congressional district and co-chair of the House Cancer Prevention Caucus. Lisa McGovern, is the Executive Director of the Prevent Cancer Foundation's Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program.
Information was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Dermatology and the Prevent Cancer Foundation.