A new study out this week further confirms the dangers of indoor tanning, finding that use of tanning beds and other UV tanning devices is strongly linked to developing skin cancer early in life. Published early online in the medical journal Pediatrics, the study compared the history of indoor tanning in a group of 25 – 50 years old participants, 657 who’d been diagnosed with a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma and 452 who did not have cancer.
The researchers found that any indoor tanning was linked to a 60 percent increased risk of early-onset basal cell carcinoma, and all types of tanning devices carried risks, from tanning lamps to tanning booths to tanning beds, which carried the most harm – doubling the risk of cancer. Beginning tanning before age 20 was linked to greater risk than tanning starting later in life. And cancer risk increased 10 percent for each year under the age of 24 that participants first indoor tanned.
These results are part of a disturbing trend in the United States – both in the popularity of indoor tanning by youth and in growing rates of skin cancer. And although basal cell carcinoma is not as serious a skin cancer as the much more deadly melanoma, it is not to be taken lightly. If not treated early, basal cell carcinoma can result in significant scars and other cosmetic damage. If it returns after initial treatment, it can be more complicated to treat.
Melanoma skin cancer is the most deadly type of the disease, and is also tightly linked with indoor tanning. A 2012 analysis of over 25 studies found that having ever used a tanning bed raised the risk of melanoma by 20 percent compared to those who had never used a tanning bed. Use in early life boosted risk even more. Using a tanning bed before age 35 raised the risk of melanoma nearly 90 percent.
Rates of melanoma have been rising steadily over the past 30 years. And a recent analysis found that indoor tanning use has also been increasing and is responsible for over 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year in the United States.
Despite such troubling numbers, full scale regulation of the tanning industry is slow to catch on. While there have been positive moves by state governments in recent years, it still still too easy for minors to access indoor tanning facilities. A 2014 analysis of 2012 data found that numerous states had no regulations in place at all that restricted youth access and many others had lax enforcement of regulations.
The dangers of indoor tanning, though, is a subject that is finally beginning to gain traction, moving states that once had no regulations to finally get some in the books. In June, for example, Missouri put into place legislation requiring minors to have parental consent to indoor tan. Though such a move is short of the outright ban on minors tanning supported by the American Academy of Dermatology, it is a move in the right direction and, along with similar legislation in other states, should help garner further support for indoor tanning protections across the nation.
More and more evidence is showing that youth and young adulthood are key times in determining cancer risk in later adulthood. We need to do everything we can to help our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews be as healthy as they can throughout life. This means helping them to eat well, to be active, to not smoke, to protect themselves from the sun, and to avoid indoor tanning.