Tanning bed use linked to more forms of skin cancer; efforts to restrict access slow to pass

New research suggests as many as 170,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer per year can be blamed on the negative effects of indoor tanning.

Millions of Americans visit indoor tanning beds every year, some going habitually to keep an all-over, year-round tan and most people who visit these salons are not thinking of the very serious health risks this practice poses. According to a new study appearing in British Medical Journal (BMJ) that examined the findings of a dozen previous studies, indoor tanning is causing a rapid rise in the amount of new cases of skin cancer every year, especially in women under the age of 30.

Researchers at University of California-San Francisco found that women under the age of 25 who regularly visited indoor tanning beds were 67 percent more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma. That same class of women were 29 percent more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma based on their frequent use of tanning beds.

Indoor tanning is performed in a variety of ways now. In addition to the traditional beds a user can rest on, some salons feature standing booths. And for about 15 minutes at a time, tanners expose themselves to high doses of ultraviolet light. This not only alters the pigment of their skin over time, it’s also putting them at risk of serious illness and injuries.

Excessive tanning has been blamed on worsening skin conditions overall, from the development of blotches and “leathery” skin to the more serious effects like cancer.

This most recent study adds to previous research which links the use of tanning beds to an increased risk of forms of melanoma skin cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancers affect the upper layers of skin and largely considered not to be life threatening but they can result in life-altering scars and lesions that often have to be surgically removed.

Efforts to increase awareness to the dangers of indoor tanning beds has only had limited success as use of these devices continues to increase despite real evidence underscoring its dangers. Federal agencies have worked to increase warnings at tanning salons but have largely been blocked in many of those efforts. Many salons have very little, if any, warnings about the dangers of ultraviolet light exposure, especially frequent exposure to it.

According to a Boston Globe report, several states like Rhode Island have successfully passed laws restricting the use of tanning beds among minors, unless they have written permission from a doctor to use one of the devices. A similar bill is currently stalled among Massachusetts commonwealth lawmakers, the report indicates.


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