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Tanning Beds Linked to 1 in 20 Cases of Skin Cancer

July 27, 2012 — A European study published July 24 in the British Medical Journal has found that women who use tanning beds are 20% more likely to develop skin cancer, and that risk increases 87% when they start tanning before age 35. The study also found that about one in 20 cases of melanoma (the most lethal form of skin cancer) is associated with the use of tanning beds.

The researchers’ conclusion was based on a meta-analysis of 27 different studies that were published between 1981 and 2012. The researchers pooled the data and looked for trends linking tanning beds to skin cancer. More than 11,000 people had skin cancer in the studies.

There was an 87% increased risk of skin cancer for people who used tanning beds before age 35, and that risk was increased by nearly 2% for each tanning session per year. The researchers estimated that in 2008, tanning beds caused 3,438 cases of melanoma and nearly 800 deaths in Europe.

They warned “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.”

Researchers are calling tanning beds carcinogenic devices that should not be used by anyone, but especially teenagers and children, who may be more susceptible to skin cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also considering a ban on tanning beds for anyone under 18 years of age. Such bans already exist in Brazil and other countries.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed a bill banning indoor tanning beds for children under 17, and teenagers between 17 and 18 must gain parental consent before they are allowed to use the devices. The governor cited concerns over UV exposure in young teenagers and children.

Many states already require tanning salons to keep strict records of their customers, including the date of each session, the patient’s skin type, type of equipment, and length of exposure. This helps public health inspectors determine whether the salon is complying with regulations. However, these requirements are not mandatory in all states.

Melanoma is a dangerous, life-threatening type of skin cancer that occurs when skin cells have cellular DNA damage. This damage can be induced by UV radiation from sunlight or tanning bed exposure.

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