Melanoma By The State: Tennessee


The state of Tennessee is famous for the Grand Ole Opry, Graceland, and the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s also known for its famous sons and daughters, such as Davy Crockett (frontiersman), Aretha Franklin (singer), and James K. Polk (President). In terms of melanoma, it’s known for being 42nd among U.S. states for new melanoma diagnoses, with 19 cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2019, it is estimated 2,070 people in Tennessee will be diagnosed with melanoma.

Tennesseans Are Taking Action

There is a small but mighty group of organizations, cancer centers, government officials, and private individuals who are taking action on multiple fronts in the state of Tennessee to combat melanoma.

These initiatives include advising the public on a regular basis about the risks posed by sun exposure and tanning beds. For example, each May, during Melanoma Awareness Month, the Tennessee Department of Health has a social media campaign that reminds people of simple tips for avoiding exposure.

The Elizabeth R. Smith Melanoma Program at CHI Memorial Rees Skillern Cancer Institute is “dedicated to working together to provide outreach, education, and screening while connecting patients with the appropriate supportive and medical services they need,” says Terri Henderson, RN, BSN, OCN, oncology nurse navigator and program coordinator for the Melanoma Program. Since 2016, Terri and her team have held over seventy outreach, educational, and health events in Southeastern Tennessee, Northern Georgia, and Northern Alabama, and have educated over 5,400 people about the disease. The Melanoma Program also has its own mole patrol that travels to venues around Southeastern Tennessee to offer free skin cancer screenings and education to the public. For the last three years, the Melanoma Program has also held 3K Run/Walks in an effort to raise melanoma awareness and raise funds to support its program.

The City of Memphis, Division of Parks & Neighborhoods is also involved in raising awareness about melanoma. This past summer, the City of Memphis Parks provided free sunscreen to 3,500 children who participated in the Ultimate Multicultural Game Day. The sunscreen was supplied by the Tennessee Cancer Coalition.

There is also My Southern Health, a website powered by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, which promotes “healthy living with a Southern sensibility” by offering informative content about skin protection all year-round.

Additionally, there are individuals such as Ken Billett, who are using their own journey with melanoma to raise awareness about the disease. Ken has shared his story on various skin cancer websites, as part of a video conference panel on living with melanoma, and more recently to raise money for melanoma research. He is also participating in AIM at Melanoma’s Peer Connect program where he is mentoring individuals who are newly diagnosed with melanoma.

On the research front, cancer centers such as Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, St. Jude, and West Cancer Center are not only helping to lead the effort to treat melanoma patients but are also, through clinical trials, helping to launch new treatments that will transform how melanoma patients are treated.

For a number of years, AIM and other stakeholders have also worked towards banning all minors under the age of 18 from indoor tanning devices. In 2018, the Tennessee legislature passed and then-Governor Bill Haslam signed SB 1495 into law which banned minors under 16 from tanning devices. Prior to the ban, all minors were able to use a device with consent from a parent or legal guardian. Those under 14 had to have a parent or legal guardian accompany them when the device was in use.

The state is currently in the process of revising its state cancer plan, which will recommend that tanning device use be restricted to all minors under 18. AIM is pushing for the full under 18 ban in Tennessee and in all states that don’t yet currently have one.

If you are a resident of Tennessee and are interested in working with AIM to ban all minors under 18 from indoor tanning devices, please contact AIM’s Director of Education, Public Policy, and Advocacy, Samantha Guild.