Melanoma after sunbed use
At the age of 21, just 7 years ago, Jenna Gurney was diagnosed with the most serious form of skin cancer - melanoma. From her late teens Jenna regularly used sunbeds, sometimes twice a week.
Before my cancer diagnosis
Like all teenagers I liked to look good and for me that meant having a tan. From about the age of 16 my friends and I went to a local sunbed salon to get the year round tan we wanted, having top up sessions before a night out. I am naturally quite pale but knew if I had enough sun or used the sunbed I would eventually tan. I always went on the sunbed for the maximum amount of time and would often use an intensifier cream. I never used any sun protection on the sunbeds and although I would use sun protection when sunbathing I never used a high factor or reapplied it. Occasionally I would burn, but it never worried me as I would always turn brown after a day or so.
I have a lot of moles and noticed one day that one on my stomach was starting to peel away and become flaky. I didn’t really pay any attention and assumed it was normal. I even continued with my regular sunbed sessions. Then I mentioned the mole to my mum and she insisted that I saw my GP.
When the GP saw the mole he wanted to remove it. I had already had a small lump removed from my shoulder and that left a small scar so I asked for a second opinion. My GP made an appointment to see a doctor at my local hospital where the mole was removed that day under local anaesthetic.
A couple of weeks later I had to go back for the results and the doctor told me the mole on my stomach had been melanoma. I was told the melanoma was 1mm thick, making it an intermediate stage. Now I know that leaving the mole any longer would have been really dangerous.
Is melanoma a type of cancer?
When I was told I had a melanoma, I had to check with the doctor to see if this meant cancer. When he told me it was a type of skin cancer I was really shocked. I was told I would need to have lymph nodes removed from under my right arm. I was given some leaflets and a phone number I could use if I wanted to get further information and support.
A month or so after I was told the mole had been cancerous I went in to have lymph nodes removed. Waiting to see if the cancer had spread was really scary. I never knew skin cancer could spread, I thought you just had moles removed and that was it. The hospital were great, they really took me under their wing and supported me during this time.
Fortunately my lymph nodes were clear but I still needed to go for check-ups every 3 months. After I had been OK for a while the check-ups became 6 monthly and then yearly. I now go voluntarily once a year to have all my moles checked. I check them routinely at home but I have so many moles I find it reassuring to go and get them all checked thoroughly. If I see anything that worries me I know I can always see my skin specialist.
I know how lucky I am. I have a small scar on my stomach and a small scar under my arm but that’s all. If I could go back and have my time again I would never use sunbeds. I wouldn’t want to go through the stress and worry of having cancer for the sake of a tan. I've always liked the look of a healthy glow but I am now really careful in the sun, stay in the shade and religiously apply sun lotion. I use fake tan products now.
It's only been since my cancer diagnosis that I understand the serious consequences of using sunbeds and spending too much time in the sun. Before, the thought of skin cancer was just at the back of my mind. I’d heard of it, but I was young and thought it would never happen to me.
My friends have stopped using sunbeds now and are careful when they sunbathe. They saw what I went through and know that UV was to blame. I would never ever use a sunbed again.
More than 10,400 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in the UK in 2006.
- There are now 4 times as many melanoma cases each year in Britain than in the 1970s.
- Almost 1 in 3 of all cases of malignant melanoma occur in people under 50, it is the second commonest cancer in 15-34 year olds in the UK.
- The most common site for men to have melanoma is on the chest or back and for women on the legs.
- Treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological therapies.
- If caught at an early stage, most people with melanoma will be cured.
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