July 27, 2012 — The British Medical Journal has published a European study linking tanning beds to a significantly increased risk of melanoma, a type of aggressive skin cancer that can be deadly. The researchers found that people who use tanning beds are 20% more likely to get skin cancer than people who do not use tanning beds, and the risk of cancer is 87% higher for people who start using tanning beds before they turn 35. They estimated that approximately one in 20 cases of skin cancer is associated with tanning beds.
The researchers came to this conclusion after conducting a meta-analysis of 27 studies, published from 1981 until 2012. Tanning beds first gained popularity in the 1980s, and several studies published in recent years have linked UV rays from tanning beds to an increased risk of skin cancer. The researchers pooled the data from these studies and identified 11,000 cases of skin cancer.
The researchers found that the risk of skin cancer increased nearly 2% for each reported tanning session for people under 35. They also estimated that in Europe in 2008 there were nearly 3,500 cases of skin cancer caused by tanning beds, of which 800 cancers were deadly.
They concluded that “sunbed use is associated with a significant increase in risk of melanoma. This risk increases with number of sunbed sessions and with initial usage at a young age (< 35 years). The cancerous damage associated with sunbed use is substantial and could be avoided by strict regulations.”
Others have also warned about the carcinogenic effect of tanning beds, and warned that they should not be used, especially by children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently considering a nationwide ban on tanning bed use for people under 18 years old. Other countries are also considering such a ban, and Brazil has passed laws prohibiting tanning bed use by teenagers.
Many states already require tanning salons to keep track of each customer — including the date, the customer’s skin type, the tanning bed used, and the amount of UV exposure. When public health inspectors visit the salons, they can ensure the salon is following state requirements.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that prohibits people under 17 years old from using a tanning bed, and requires teenagers between age 17 and 18 to gain parental consent. Legislators were concerned that young children exposed to high amount of UV radiation may have a significantly increased risk of skin cancer.
Melanoma is a life-threatening, aggressive form of skin cancer that is more likely in people exposed to large amounts of UV radiation, either from sunlight or tanning bed exposure. UV rays cause damage to cellular DNA, which can cause the cell to begin dividing out of control, causing cancer.
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