Indoor Tanning Youths Face Increased Skin Cancer Risks: Study

Teens may face a higher risk of developing cancer after using indoor tanning beds than when tanning outdoors, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published on line by the medical journal Pediatrics on June 23, researchers found that teens and young adults who use tanning beds were more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and were more likely to be diagnosed at a much earlier age.

Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New Hampshire, studied young people exposed to indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning light, including tanning booths, tanning beds and tanning lamps. During the New Hampshire Skin Cancer Study, researchers compared 657 cases of BCC and 452 control subjects.

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More than 40% of cases of BCC were found on the back or chest of participants, rather than the head or the neck. Back and chest occurrences are considered associated with indoor tanning, instead of exposure to natural sunlight overhead. Participants who were first exposed as adolescents or young adults had the greatest risk of developing BCC. The risk was present for each type of indoor tanning device.

Margaret Karagas, lead author, and the Dartmouth team collected data on the type of tanning device participants used and time participants spent outdoors as children. Associations of BCC were seen for every type of device.

Basal cell carcinoma is a highly treatable type of skin cancer if caught early. However, it can be highly disfiguring if not caught in time. The skin cancer has a high rate of occurrence, but is considered one that is typically developed later in life. However, research reveals incidences of basal cell carcinoma continue to rise in the U.S., especially among people of a younger age.

Indoor tanning was once considered to be safer than tanning outdoor sunbathing. However, studies conclude indoor tanning can produce 10 to 15 times more UV radiation than the midday sun.

Tanning Bed Laws and Regulations

Teens appear to have easy access to tanning beds, according to the researchers. The Dartmouth team noted a recent New Hampshire survey revealed that 74% of high schools have at least one tanning salon within two miles of the school.

The FDA currently imposes no age restrictions on the use of tanning beds for teens. Researchers warn that if no federal laws ban teens from using tanning beds, increased counseling should be offered to teens to make them aware of the serious risks.

Recently the FDA recommended stricter warnings be placed on tanning bed lamps, warning users of the cancer risk. The FDA restrictions require manufacturers to place black box warnings on tanning beds and tanning booths, warning users under the age of 18 against using the devices. However, the warnings do not prohibit underage use.

A study published in 2013 revealed young women often ignore the risks associated with indoor tanning, placing themselves at risk of developing skin cancer.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 30% increase in tanning bed use by women.

Tanning bed users who begin tanning before the age of 25 increase their risk of non-melanoma skin cancer by 40%. The risk of melanoma increases nearly two percent with each additional year of indoor tanning bed use.

Another study released this month suggested that tanning often becomes highly addictive, especially teens and young adults. Researchers found repetitive exposure to UV light, either from the sun or indoor tanning, resulted in a physical dependence and addiction. The UV light stimulates the production of endorphins, which also turn on opiate-related receptors in the same way heroin or painkillers do. The endorphins create an addictive response to tanning, revealing why so many tanning bed users choose to ignore skin cancer warnings.


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