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Melanoma growth alarms cancer society

Manitoba division seeks to ban kids from tanning salons

Ellen Dueck battled skin cancer after too much exposure to sunshine and tanning salons. She now warns others of the danger.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Ellen Dueck battled skin cancer after too much exposure to sunshine and tanning salons. She now warns others of the danger.

Growing up on a farm in Paraguay, Ellen Dueck spent a lot of time in the sun. Later, as an adult in Winnipeg, she frequented tanning salons.

She's convinced both contributed to her contracting melanoma, a form of skin cancer, nine years ago.

In July 2005, she had a cancerous mole removed from her back. A year-and-a-half later, the cancer returned to lymph nodes in the pit of her right arm.

While she's been cancer-free since, she's especially conscious of the need to limit her exposure to ultraviolet rays.

On Wednesday, the 41-year-old Dueck, a mother of three, was the poster woman for the local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society as it released its latest report on the incidence of cancer.

In Manitoba, it's expected 6,500 people will be diagnosed with cancer this year, up 400 from just two years ago. An estimated 2,700 will die from the disease.

The most common diagnosis will be for colorectal cancer (930 cases) followed by lung (880), breast (850) and prostate (730).

The cancer society is concerned, however, with the fact melanoma is one of the fastest rising of all cancers in Canada.

Dueck said if she had known about the dangers of tanning salons and excessive sun exposure when she was younger, she would have taken more care.

She recalls receiving "a bunch of sunburns" as a kid and frequenting a tanning studio in Winnipeg one winter two or three times per week.

Now she shuns them and takes precautions when she's out in the sun for any length of time.

"Everybody wants to be outside -- even if you've had skin cancer, I still enjoy being outside. But you've got to be smart about it," she said.

Erin Crawford, director of public issues with the cancer society's Manitoba division, said the statistics show Canadians are not taking skin cancer -- a largely preventable disease -- as seriously as they should be.

The incidence of melanoma is rising 2.2 per cent per year for men and 2.6 per cent per year for women across the country.

Manitobans are doing better. Here, the incidence is rising 0.2 per cent per year for men and 0.1 per cent for women. But it's still heading in the wrong direction.

"I'm looking forward to summer as much as anybody. What we're saying is the threat of cancer is real, and where you can prevent it, you should take measures to do so," Crawford said.

Yet, she said, the province could do more to help stem skin cancers by banning minors from using tanning salons. Currently, minors need permission from their parents to use the service, but British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have banned kids from using them, and Alberta is considering it.

Health Minister Erin Selby said Wednesday she is open to strengthening Manitoba's law to prohibit minors from tanning salons.

"We've been hearing from doctors, the Canadian Cancer Society and from families that they'd like us to go a... step further, so we're certainly looking at that right now," she said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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