“If I would have taken precautions or been educated I might not be in this situation I am now,” said Carson Smith, junior at Auburn University in an interview with the Auburn Plainsman. From Mobile, Alabama, Smith spent her childhood and youth at home in the coastal sun and used tanning beds almost daily for three years prior to being diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. She had believed that skin cancer was easily treatable and something that concerned older people.
At only 19, after noticing a mole that was growing darker, and being prompted by a sign at her doctor’s office that read: “get checked for skin cancer today,” Smith was diagnosed with melanoma. She told the Plainsman that prior to the call confirming the diagnosis she could see the truth on her doctor’s face, and yet she still visited a tanning bed the next Monday. The next day she would get the call that would change her life.
“If I had waited another 6 months, it could’ve very well spread to all of my organs,” Smith said of the two cancers that were removed in emergency surgery the day after she received the call from her doctor. A little more than a year later she was diagnosed with cancer again. With recurrences common in melanoma survivors, regular visits to her oncologist are a normal part of her life. Smith has had 20 surgeries since that first mole she noticed when she was 19.
After her diagnosis, Smith became an advocate. She began working to make a difference by telling her story specifically to two at-risk groups: white teenage girls and college-aged women.
“I used to say, ‘If I die, at least I’ll die tan,’” Smith told the Plainsman.
The Plainsman referenced a recent study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science which surveyed more than 600 American college women. The study found that 69.1 percent of the women surveyed said they like to tan in spite of the fact that 99.4 percent of them agreed that tanning can cause skin damage such as cancer and premature aging. Almost 84 percent of the women said they believe a tan makes them “more attractive.”
“We shouldn’t be afraid of the sun, but we have to learn the proper precautions to protect ourselves,” Smith said. “If I would have taken precautions or been educated I might not be in this situation I am now.”
Another at-risk group who wishes they had had the knowledge that could have changed their lives is men who have taken erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra. Viagra is a PDE5 inhibitor and scientists have published research that shows that the mechanism that makes these drugs work also encourages melanoma to grow more rapidly. Other research has shown that men who have taken sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, are more likely to develop melanoma, one study finding that they are 84 percent more likely to develop the disease than men who did not take the drug.
Hundreds of men have filed lawsuits against the makers of these drugs claiming that the manufacturers knew or should have known about the drugs’ “unreasonably dangerous and defective qualities.”
“Pfizer purposefully downplayed, understated and outright ignored the melanoma-related health hazards and risks associated with using Viagra,” the master complaint in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) against Viagra’s manufacturer says, according to Law360. “Pfizer also deceived potential Viagra users by relaying positive information through the press, including testimonials from retired, popular United States politicians, while downplaying known adverse and serious health effects.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking into the need for regulatory action for this class of drug in relation to skin melanomas and it seems unlikely that until the drug companies are required to warn the public of this risk that they will do so. In the meantime, researchers continue to study the subject and publish their results bringing attention to this melanoma risk and the men choosing to bring lawsuits against the drug manufacturers are raising awareness of this issue so other erectile dysfunction drug users can make informed decisions about their health.