One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. It is the most common of all cancers and accounts for nearly half of all cancer cases in the United States. More than 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are found in the U.S. each year. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, will account for 70,230 new skin cancer diagnoses in 2011, according to the American Cancer Society. Now, let’s juxtapose these numbers with the fact that nearly 30 million people tan indoors in tanning beds in the U.S. every year and 2.3 million of them are teens. Furthermore, on an average day, over one million Americans use tanning salons1.
So, just how bad are tanning beds and does the increase in their use correlate with the increase in melanoma incidence rates over the last 30 years? Findings released in 2009 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health organization, demonstrate that indoor tanning beds and tanning devices are more dangerous than we previously thought, and as a result, the IARC moved UV tanning devices such as tanning beds from their Group 2A category, “probably carcinogenic to humans,” to their Group 1 list of the most dangerous cancer causing agents. Inclusion of a cancer causing agent or substance is listed in the IARC’s Group 1 means that agent or substance is definitely carcinogenic to humans. Other agents listed in Group 1 include plutonium and cigarettes.
As is mentioned above, 2.3 million of the people using indoor tanning beds and devices in the U.S. are teens. Because skin cancers such as melanoma can take a substantial amount of time to develop, along with moving tanning devices into their Group 1 category, the IARC also now recommends banning commercial indoor tanning use for people under the age of 18 in an effort to lower their risk for developing skin cancer later in life.
Back in 2006, the IARC took its efforts to identify the impact indoor tanning can have on skin cancer risk a step further by evaluating 19 studies conducted over 25 years that looked at the relationship between indoor tanning and skin cancer. Findings from this evaluation reveal:
- there is an association between UV-emitting tanning devices and ocular melanoma (cancer of the eye)
- there is an association between indoor tanning and both squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, two dangerous forms of skin cancer
- the DNA damage caused by UVA and UVB rays can lead to skin cancer in laboratory animals. Most indoor tanning beds and devicese emit UVS rays.
But, the most notable finding from their evaluation is a scary one– the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer increases by 75% when indoor tanning device and tanning bed use starts before the age of 35.2
Hopefully these numbers and findings are enough to make you reconsider using tanning beds this summer and in future years. As the research continues to pour in, it becomes more and more clear just how dangerous indoor tanning (and outdoor tanning, for that matter) are.
For more information on tanning beds and the risks associated with their use, visit: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm186687.htm There you can also find guidelines for how to reduce your risk for skin cancer in you do decide to continue tanning indoors. But we encourage you to change your tanning habits and prioritize your health! If you’re seeking a golden bronze glow, why not try self-tanning lotions? What else do you recommend for lowering risk for skin cancer or alternatives to tanning? Let us know in the comments area below!