Despite Skin Cancer Risks, More Youths Looking to Tan: Survey

A new survey finds that more and more children and teens are exposing themselves to a risk of skin cancer in order to get a tan, raising the concerns about the dangers associated with the practice. 

Researchers from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City have published a new study that indicates only a quarter of all fifth graders use sunscreen if they are outside for more than six hours. By the time they reached the eighth grade, that number had droped to about half, as more of them actively tried to get a tan.

According to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers interviewed 360 fifth graders in Massachusetts about tanning and sunscreen use. They then went back and interviewed the same children three years later. Despite the drop in sunscreen use, however, the rate of sunburn, about 50%, remained the same.

While focused primarily on time in the sun, the survey comes amid growing debate over whether youths should be allowed to go to indoor tanning salons in order to get a tan, due to concerns about a risk of skin cancer associated with the tanning beds.

Last year, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force drafted recommendations that healthcare providers counsel children and young adults up to the age of 24 against tanning if they have fair skin. However, some communities and states have been weighing outright bans on tanning bed use by minors.

The American Cancer Society says that melanoma is diagnosed in about 69,000 Americans each year and causes about 8,650 deaths annually. Less dangerous, but more common, basal and squamous cell carcinomas affect more than one million Americans each year and cause about 2,000 deaths annually.

A study by the World Health Organization in July 2009, indicated that use of tanning beds before the age of 30 may increase the risk of skin cancer by 75%. As a result of the study, WHO reclassified ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds as a definite carcinogen . Previously, they were considered “probable” carcinogens.

There have been increasing calls for a ban on the use of tanning beds for children under the age of 18. In March, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) called for such a ban and an FDA advisory committee made similar recommendations in March 2010.

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