Summer sun can be deadly if you aren't smart
F aster than you can say heat wave, safety experts emerged from their snow-induced comas this week to spread fear among those of us eager to hit the pool or travel to the coast. The experts are warning about heat strokes, insect bites, fireworks, skin cancer and the ever-popular fecal matter in the pool water.
My inbox was jammed with all sorts of gloom and doom scenarios that suddenly made me wonder if some of these safety wizards are simply trying to make a buck. Not saying statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about E.coli in pool water don't give me pause. The odds are pretty high – 58 percent — of finding this nasty bug in a random pool. But are we really going to force people to shower with soap before swimming, as some experts say we should?
The seriousness of summer safety took a different turn for me after a conversation with skin cancer guru Dr. John Kirkwood of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Melanoma Program. He rides his bike at seven in the morning to avoid the beating, midday sun and swears ballcaps are the best fashion accessory for the protection they provide. Kirkwood and his partners see more than 700 patients a year who show up in their offices after they've noticed an unusual spot on the skin that tested positive for cancer.
About a year ago, Kirkwood treated two teenagers whose cases stood out. Both the 14-year-old and 17-year-old were indoor tanners. You know, the ones who like to lie under fluorescent lamps and swear that bronzed skin is the equivalent of health. The 17-year-old girl, Kirkwood said, had lesions on each of her legs. He'd never seen anything like it. He compared her tanning addiction to being hooked on drugs.
Even among people who've had melanoma — the deadliest of skin cancers — Kirkwood said he finds a remarkable lack of insight about the dangers of the sun. They're completely unaware that ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds causes DNA damage to skin cells. Instead, people focus on the feel-good aspect of tanning. That's likely a product of endorphins released by the sun, which is not seen in Western Pennsylvania enough days of the year.
Kirkwood doesn't expect any sensible individual to completely avoid the sun. He knows being healthy means being active. As he told me: “We don't want people to become hermits living in a cave. They just need to be smart.” Two important things you can do are pay attention to what time of day you're in the sun and what type of sunscreen you're putting on your skin, Kirkwood said.
It's hard to know if anyone will ever pay attention to the perils of tanning. If you remember, even Obamacare tried to curb the love affair with tanning beds by creating a special tax on indoor tanning. Indoors tanners for the past two years have been paying an extra 10 percent tax on their bronzing bill, a step meant to discourage people from tanning.
Last time anyone talked about it, the tanning tax had fallen short of expectations and raised barely a third of the $200 million projection. Perhaps more telling, a study last year by Northwestern University researchers showed only a slight drop in tanning customers following implementation of the tax on businesses. Sadly, most people don't care. Such a failure might just mean the only wake-up call to skin cancer will be the cancer itself.
And that can sting far more than a bad sunburn.
Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Linebacker Harrison coming along slowly since return to Steelers
- Steelers notebook: Shazier returns just in time
- Script is it: Classic Pitt helmet design to return
- Critics claim state Attorney General Kane puts politics first
- 9-month probe leads to major heroin bust in McKeesport
- Freeport man accused of having child pornography images
- Penguins notebook: Carcillo has no hard feelings after failing to make roster
- Lower Burrell man charged with shoplifting
- Corbett, Wolf resort to sticks, stones to attract attention
- WPIAL football playoff clinchings
- Police investigating 2 shootings in Washington County