No Fun in the Sun for Many Young Women

Distorted body image keeps many women in tanning beds against expert advice.

ByABC News
July 9, 2008, 5:47 PM

July 18, 2008 — -- It all began with a white prom dress.

Brittany Lietz, then 17, bought the dress but decided that she would look prettier in it if her naturally pale skin were a little darker.

Lietz, from Edgewater, Md., made an appointment at a local tanning salon for an eight-minute session. Over the next three years, her tanning habit grew into an addiction, a daily ritual that eventually resulted in melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer.

"My body almost felt the need to go tanning to have that euphoria feeling of calmness," said Lietz, now 23. "I was so naïve."

Lietz was not alone with her diagnosis. In a recent researcher letter in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, doctors reported that the incidence of melanoma increased 50 percent in a representative population aged 15-39 between 1980 and 2004, from 9.4 to 14 cases per 100,000 women.

And young women tend to have more sun-seeking behaviors than men, particularly indoor and outdoor tanning. The increase in melanomas can be a serious consequence.

"It's unlikely that a change in incidents of this magnitude within a relatively short span of years would be due to some kind of genetic factor," said Dr. Mark Purdue, a researcher in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., and author of the letter. "It is more likely that it's some kind of environmental factor."

Melanomas, which form when pigment cells in the skin become cancerous, account for less than 5 percent of skin cancer cases but they are responsible for over 70 percent of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

Kelli Pedroia, wife of Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia, also struggled with melanoma as a result of sun damage. Although she was diagnosed at age 18, Pedroia failed to grasp the gravity of her condition and continued to sunbathe and frequent tanning salons.

"At 18, I did not get it," she said. "I thought, it happened once, it will never happen to me again."