Cancer Survivor Says Tanning Restrictions Will Protect Kansas Teens

Feb 9, 2016

Amy Holdman will speak Tuesday to a legislative committee in support of a bill that would prohibit tanning salons from allowing people under 18 to use ultraviolet beds.
Credit Jim McClean / Heartland Health Monitor

Amy Holdman has a cautionary tale for Kansas lawmakers. The 41-year-old mother of two from Overland Park will be in Topeka today to speak in favor of a bill that would prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from using ultraviolet tanning beds.

Holdman has had three surgeries in just the last year to remove melanoma skin cancers from her arms.

She and her doctors believe that her frequent use of tanning beds as a teenager and young adult is the likely cause.

“In high school I went often. I was on dance team. So, we’d wear the little outfits so you wanted to be tan and cute," Holdman says. "And I can’t not admit this, I’ve done it as an adult as well. You know, before my honeymoon and things like that. Again, because I wasn’t educated on the dangers of melanoma.”

More than 40 states have regulations that in some way restrict the use ultraviolet tanning beds. Kansas is among a handful of states that impose no restrictions.

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Amy Holdman has a cautionary tale for Kansas lawmakers.

The 41-year-old mother of two from Overland Park is convinced that her frequent use of tanning beds as a teenager and young adult is the reason she’s had to endure three surgeries in the past year to remove chunks of cancerous skin from both arms.

Doctors had to dig deep to remove melanoma cancer cells from her right forearm in February 2015. In the months that followed, she underwent dozens of painful biopsies and two more scarring surgeries. “I truly believe that I got melanoma later in life because of tanning bed use when I was younger,” Holdman said during a recent interview in her home.

As a high school and college student, Holdman said she didn’t know anything about the risks she was taking.

“I was on the dance team, so we would wear the little outfits and you wanted to be tan and cute,” she said. “And then in college, I was actually a nanny for a family that had a tanning bed in their house. Being a college kid with no money, that sounded great at the time.”

But if she could travel back in time knowing what she now knows, Holdman said she would give her “16-year-old self” a sobering warning.

“I’m a single mom with two daughters, and there is nothing more important to me than to be here for them,” she said. “To think that could be taken away from me because I was worried about a tan is sickening to me at the age of 41.”

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body than basal cell and squamous cell cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. Still, like most forms of skin cancer it is curable if detected early enough.

“I hope I’m out of the woods,” Holdman said, noting that in addition to getting comprehensive skin examinations every three months doctors perform periodic lung and liver scans to ensure that she’s cancer free.

“The fear is always in your head that something could come back later,” she said.

Holdman is among those scheduled to testify Tuesday to the House Health and Human Services Committee in support of House Bill 2369, which would prohibit tanning salons from allowing people under 18 to use ultraviolet beds. Businesses that violate the ban could be fined up to $250 per violation.

Anticipating pushback from lawmakers opposed to placing restrictions on private businesses, Holdman is prepared to argue that the health hazards of tanning are similar to those posed by smoking.

“It’s just like tobacco,” she said. “People can’t smoke legally until they’re 18.”

It’s a fair comparison, according to research cited in a factsheet compiled by the cancer society’s lobbying arm, the Cancer Action Network. It says that “the dangers of tanning devices are so serious” that the World Health Organization has labeled them “carcinogenic to humans” along with tobacco and asbestos.

A 2012 British study cited in the factsheet found that using a tanning device before the age of 35 increased people’s risk of later developing melanoma by 59 percent. Tanning bed use before age 25 increased the risk of squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas by 102 percent and 40 percent respectively, according to another 2012 study.

The tanning industry is pushing back by questioning both the research findings and the motives of the cancer society and other groups that it says are part of a “sun scare” campaign.

Salon owners from across the country banded together in 2012 to form the American Suntanning Association.

At the time, founding ASA board member Diane Lucas, chief executive of Palm Beach tan, a national salon chain, said: “There are many misconceptions about the risks associated with indoor tanning. One of the primary roles of the ASA is to address and factually dispel these myths and educate the public about intelligent, practical sun care for tanners and non-tanners.”

The Kansas bill, which was introduced a year ago but is only now getting a hearing in committee, targets people under 18 because of the high rate of tanning bed use among teenage girls. According to a 2013 survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 27 percent of 12th grade girls reported using tanning beds in the previous year, with many describing their use as frequent.

Kansas is one of seven states that places no restrictions on the use of tanning devices, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Thirteen states have laws that ban the use of ultraviolet tanning devices by people under 18, while others require parental approval or regulate the length of exposure time.

The hearing on the Kansas bill is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in room 546-South at the Statehouse.