If I had the opportunity to connect with Tawny Willoughby, I would thank her profusely. Thank her for sharing her skin cancer story through words and pictures that resonate. It is not easy to get this important message across and she’s done it brilliantly.

Every day I preach sun protection and tanning avoidance. Most listen, some ignore. That’s normal, I certainly don’t floss my teeth every night. I get it, bronzed skin is gorgeous. I am guilty of that too—15 years ago, I walked across the stage to receive my med school diploma proud of my sun kissed hue. I am since reformed.SKin cancer treatment

The reality is, skin cancer is not just common, it is an American epidemic. As the most common malignancy in the United states, one in five of us will get it, and each hour one of us will die from it. All it takes is one bad sunburn. As Willoughby bravely illustrated, it isn’t just a disease of the elderly. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults between the ages of 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer in young people 15-29 years old. Research reveals that the rates of this potentially deadly cancer have climbed by an alarming 800 percent among young women. Why? The addiction to tanning (and no, it will not get you more Vitamin D). People who use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by a whopping 75 percent. Ninety percent of basal cell and squamous cell cancers come from unprotected time in the sun.

Skin cancer

Sure, skin cancer is curable in any form if caught early, but as we see from this testimonial, it can be cosmetically disfiguring and emotionally scarring. There is no need for someone to sacrifice part of their nose, ear (yes, this happens) or their life in a preventable context. Usually skin cancer is treated by surgical removal, although in advanced cases systemic therapies may be necessary as well. It’s still preventable. You don’t have to live under a rock; you can enjoy your life and relish the outdoors. Just follow these tips:

Seek shade between 10am and 4pm when UV rays are the strongest.
Wear a broad spectrum SPF of 30 or higher daily, and reapply every two hours with intensive sun exposure.
Rock a wide-brimmed hat (there are plenty of adorable ones) and shades for added protection.
Most importantly, if you have a family history of skin cancer, a personal history of tanning, have had a blistering sunburn, have multiple moles or are above the age of 40, see a dermatologist yearly for a body check.
Monthly self exams are important as well—look for any lesion that is new, different or changing. This could mean a “pimple” that won’t go away or a pink scaly spot. A non-healing sore, or a mole that is asymmetric, has an irregular border/color, or that is widening in size.

I truly encourage my patients to enjoy their lives to the fullest, but skin cancer is no joke. Don’t die for a tan. Protect yourself, get checked, and be safe.