SkinCancerNet Spotlight Article
The Dark Side of Tanning Beds: One Woman's Story

From tanning-salon customer to skin-cancer patient in just four years, Kimberly Sanga's mission is to raise awareness of the health risks associated with indoor tanning.

Patient Profile
At age 14, Kimberly Sanga wanted a killer tan. Blonde and fair-skinned, she thought a tan would make her look more attractive, so she stopped by her local indoor tanning salon and signed up for unlimited sessions. The buzz about the dangers of tanning did not faze her. All of her friends were using tanning beds, so she figured, “How bad could it be?”

More than 20 skin-cancer surgeries later, Kimberly knows how bad it can be. Scars from these surgeries crisscross her entire body. She has had 40-plus suspicious lesions removed. One surgery required 25 stitches in her groin.

Some of these excised lesions were basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer. Others turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that can spread. Kimberly now worries that she could be diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Her doctor shares this concern.

Suffering Lifelong Consequences
While Kimberly has not slipped into a tanning bed for 13 years, new growths continue to appear at a rate that alarms her. Within the past month, over a dozen new moles have developed. Kimberly continues to see her doctor regularly. Sometimes it is once every 3 months; other times she needs monthly visits. Lately, a routine has emerged. First she undergoes a full-body exam. Then suspicious lesions are removed.

While Kimberly knows what to expect, it does not make these visits any easier. Having lesions removed, she confesses, still disturbs her. “My doctor gives me a local anesthetic, but I can feel the tugging sensation as the scalpel moves across my skin.”

At least the skin-cancer surgery is quickly over. Waiting for the biopsy report, which provides the diagnosis for each excised lesion, is agonizing. “I try to visualize what I would say or how I would feel if the diagnosis comes back melanoma,” she says. “I think about what stage it would be and what the next step would be. I am always wondering how fast my dysplastic moles will change into cancer.”

To increase her chance of finding skin cancer in the earliest stage when the cure rate averages 95%, Kimberly examines her moles every other day. She is grateful to her husband, Shawn, who makes it his responsibility to examine her back. Between them, they look at the size, shape, and color of every mole on her body — current count 72.

Despite all she is doing to improve her chances, she still feels uncertain about her future. She feels cheated out of some of life’s simplest pleasures. There is no such thing as enjoying a day outdoors. This pained her most on her honeymoon. At Disney World, they had to plan their time so that they were indoors during the peak sun hours.

Reaching Out to Teens
Despite the challenges and a full-time career, Kimberly somehow finds the energy and time to raise awareness of the risks associated with tanning. She especially wants teenagers to know her story and about the dark side of tanning. “One of the scariest things I see is people under 20 crowding the tanning salons in my town year round.”

To reach local teens, Kimberly partnered with the chief of police in her hometown, a fellow cancer survivor, to create a forum at the local high school. They plan to hold the first forum this spring, just before spring break and prom season when teenage tanning bed use peaks.

To emphasize what can happen with just a few years of tanning, Kimberly will show photographs of her scars. She will tell these teens that she started using tanning beds at age 14 and was diagnosed with her first skin cancer after only 4 years of tanning. With heartfelt emotion, she will explain that the skin cancer removed from her breast at age 18 — a basal cell carcinoma — only develops with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Even people who spend their lives outdoors in the sun tend not to develop basal cell carcinoma until their 40s, 50s, or 60s.

She will point out that tanning beds have changed this. Today, young, healthy people are developing skin cancer.

Kimberly wants everyone to know that she is not the first teenager to use tanning beds and develop skin cancer. She mentions fellow skin cancer survivor, Brittany Lietz who was crowned Miss Maryland in 2006. Brittany started indoor tanning while in high school. It was not long before she found herself slipping into a tanning bed 4 times a week. At age 20, Brittany was diagnosed with stage II melanoma.

Like Brittany, Kimberly encourages teens to think first. “Before you slip into a tanning bed, think about your future and the damage you are doing,” she pleads. If she can reach them, Kimberly believes they will never know the life she now leads.

Real Stories: Other Young Women Who Used Tanning Beds and Developed Skin Cancer

Getting Burned by Tanning Beds
Melanoma Diagnosis: Stepping Stone for Miss Maryland

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

"Before you slip into a tanning bed, think about your future and the damage you are doing." Kimberly cautions.

Photo by Kristin Despathy

Do you want to tell your story?

Have you been diagnosed with skin cancer? Do you want to share an idea or message with people who visit this site? If you would like to tell your story, please write to Paula Ludmann.





     © American Academy of Dermatology, 2010  All rights reserved.

Page last updated 1/23/08

Disclaimer           Copyright Information