From OncoLog, March 2012, Vol. 57, No. 3
House Call: Tanning
Beds Pose Health Risks
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States; almost half of all cancers nationwide are skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 90% of skin cancers and is almost always cured with surgical intervention if caught early. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type. Melanoma is the most deadly and aggressive form of skin cancer.
Studies have linked all three of these skin cancers to tanning bed use. One study found that women who used tanning beds more than once a month were 55% more likely to develop melanoma than were women who had never used tanning beds. The risk was higher for those who began using tanning beds before they were 35 years old. Another study found that, compared with those who had never used tanning beds, people who had ever used tanning beds had a 75% higher risk of developing melanoma, and frequent users faced melanoma risks as much as 200% higher.
Although the World Health Organization listed tanning beds as carcinogenic in 2009, tanning salons outnumber both Starbucks and McDonalds in more than 100 cities in the United States. And more than one-third of 17-year-old American girls have reported indoor tanning.
Legal actions against indoor tanning
State legislatures are beginning to recognize the dangers of indoor tanning and the need to regulate it, following the pattern of tobacco legislation. In 2009, Texas passed a law preventing children younger than 16 years from using tanning beds. California followed in 2011, setting the minimum age at 18 years.
Texas has also targeted tanning salon advertisements. In 2008, the Texas attorney general sued a Houston-based tanning salon chain over advertisements claiming that tanning beds reduce the risk of cancer because of the production of vitamin D. In fact, diet and outside activity usually provide plenty of the vitamin without the health risks posed by tanning beds.
Other dangers of indoor tanning
Excess exposure to UV rays can suppress the immune system, increasing vulnerability to infection and disease.
Similar to sun exposure, tanning beds can cause painful skin burns and eye damage, such as photokeratitis (sunburned corneas). Tanning beds also increase the formation of cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens that can lead to blindness.
People who tan to be more attractive often find that their pursuit of
beauty has aged their skin prematurely, leaving wrinkles and dark
spots. Even tanning enthusiasts who escape cancer might have to undergo
surgery to remove unsightly moles, potentially leaving scars.
– J. DelsigneFor more information, talk to your physician, visit www.mdanderson.org, or call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789.