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Alert Number 295

Tanning Beds? Not Even if You Are a Republican!

Date: September 22, 2008

CLL is a non-denominational cancer, it hits democrats and republicans alike with no discrimination. For that reason, CLL Topics has a strict no-politics policy. You will not see us supporting either of the political parties, the most “political” statement I will allow myself is asking each of you to exercise your constitutional right to vote, make your voice heard.

But we are in the throes of pre-election silly season in this country – and this time around, one of the more silly arguments is about the safety of tanning beds, Alaskan or otherwise. Now, that is something I cannot leave unchallenged!  We have new members coming into our community each and every month. Most of them (and perhaps some of you old timers) need to be reminded about the real danger of aggressive skin cancer in CLL patients. Here are the facts, just the facts:

  • Even just the amount of UV exposure enough to give you a slight tan is too much exposure in terms of cellular damage. Many experts say “there is no such thing as a safe tan”.
  • CLL patients are many more times likely to have skin cancer issues than the general population. And, when they do get so-called garden variety basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, there is a much higher chance that these incipient cancers will turn aggressive and need surgery.
  • “Moh’s surgery” (where they dig out the SCC or BCC patch) needs to be more aggressive when the patient also has CLL. The relapse rates after Moh’s surgery are higher for CLL patients, especially if the surgeon goes a little wimpy on how much tissue is removed.
  • Risk of SCC or BCC turning aggressive increases as your CLL becomes more aggressive, and most of the drugs that damage T-cells (as in fludarabine or Campath, for example) will further increase your risks.
  • We have made some headway in the past few years by hammering this point, but I am still dismayed how many doctors fall into the “silo mentality”, CLL doctors that don’t know about increased skin cancer risk and dermatologists that do not ‘do’ CLL issues. The burden falls to you, the patient, to take care of yourself on this important subject.


Have I got your attention? Be smart. Avoid UV exposure as much as you can, make darn sure you get full body check up with a competent dermatologist (who understands the additional risks you carry as a CLL patient) at least every six months. That little patch of actinic keratosis on your balding scalp can be the first danger signal that you ignore at your own peril. By the way, did you know people can get skin cancer even in places where the sun don’t shine? I am not kidding!

Every time I write about sun / UV exposure and the risk of skin cancer, I get a few replies from born-again sun worshippers who point to literature articles that describe the importance of vitamin D3 in general good health as well as cancer prevention. No questions there, majority of our population would be a lot healthier if they had adequate levels of vitamin D3 in their bodies. The percentage of people in northern climates who are deficient in this absolutely essential vitamin are staggering.

But here is the kicker – you do not need to expose yourself to the risks of skin cancer, aggressive skin cancer in the case of CLL patients, in order to get sufficient vitamin D3! This is one guaranteed case where you can have your cake and eat it too. Vitamin D3 capsules are readily available, they are not all that expensive, and most doctors are now on board about getting their patients tested for vitamin D3 sufficiency.

Below are links to articles that are already up on our website on the subjects of skin cancer, vitamin D3 etc.

Dying to get a tan?

Vitamin D3 - Essential For Good Health

Fludarabine Increases Risk Of Skin Cancer

Most people who live in the tropics have a healthy respect for the dangers of excessive sun exposure. There is a saying in India, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun”.

Please don’t be a mad dog!

Be well,


No Such Thing as a Safe Tan, Researchers Say

Posted: September 22, 2008

There is no such thing as a safe tan, U.S. and British researchers said on Thursday.

They said in their review of published studies that tans and skin cancer both begin with DNA damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet light but many people, especially the young, ignore or are unaware of this danger in a quest for a bronzed body.

"The signals in the cells that induce sun tanning appear to be DNA damage," said Dorothy Bennett, a cell biologist at St. George's, University of London, who wrote one of the papers. "DNA damage is the first step in getting a mutation in cells that could lead to cancer, so there can't be anything like a safe tan."

The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 60,000 people each year die from too much ultraviolet light, mostly from malignant melanoma--the deadliest form of skin cancer. The link between skin cancer and damage from ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning booths is well known but the review published in the journal Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research suggests that even a little exposure is dangerous.

Another problem is that while genetic and other factors also contribute to skin cancer risk, mixed messages about the safety of ultraviolet light confuses the public, Bennett added in a telephone interview. Getting some sunshine is important because ultraviolet light spurs the body to produce vitamin D. But people need far less ultraviolet exposure for this than it takes to tan, she said. "A lot of young people don't know about the scientific evidence," she said. "Anything that causes mutations in your cells increases your risk of cancer."

Reuters, September 17, 2008


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