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Tanning beds 'can cause non-melanoma skin cancer'

by Adrian Bishop 02 Oct 2012
Tanning beds 'can cause non-melanoma skin cancer'

Tanning bed image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Tanning beds can cause non-melanoma skin cancer, says a new study by American scientists. The danger from indoor tanning beds is more acute the earlier the tanning starts, says the research led by UCSF.

The risk from tanning of malignant melanoma, which is rare, but more deadly, is recognised, but the new research suggests the danger from non-melanoma, the most common of human skin cancers, is also heightened.

The most detailed study to date suggests that indoor tanning could lead to more than 170,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancers every year in America.

Those who visit tanning salons before the age of 25 have a greater risk of developing basal cell carcinomas than those who have never been, the researchers reported.

The research has just been published in the online version of the BMJ, the British general medical journal.

Senior author Eleni Linos, MD, DrPH, an assistant professor of dermatology at UCSF, says, "The numbers are striking - hundreds of thousands of cancers each year are attributed to tanning beds. This creates a huge opportunity for cancer prevention.'

The research involved a meta-analysis and in-depth review of medical articles published since 1985. There were 80,000 people in six countries involved along with data going back 35 years.

Indoor tanning became popular in the US in the 1970s and they now attract each year. The National Cancer Institute and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010 estimated 5.6% of Americans used indoor tanning in the previous year, most were women, white, and young.

It is believed that there are 19,000 indoor tanning businesses, according to industry figures.

The World Health Organization warns that ultraviolet tanning devices can cause cancer and the International Agency for Research on Cancer believes indoor tanning is a "Class 1' carcinogen. Government regulation of tanning facilities is increasingly common.

The new research increases evidence of the harms that can be caused by indoor tanning.

Co-author, Mary-Margaret Chren, MD, professor of dermatology at UCSF, says, "Several earlier studies suggested a link between non-melanoma skin cancer and indoor tanning. Our goal was to synthesize the available data to be able to draw a firm conclusion about this important question,'

The study examined early life exposure and continued use of tanning salons.

Those who indulged in indoor tanning had a 67% higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma and a 29% higher risk of basal cell carcinoma over those who never visit tanning salons.

The scientists noted the research had some limitations, such as the broad timeframe of the data. Indoor tanning devices have also altered from high UVB output largely UVA output, say the authors.

But many studies have suggested that UVB and UVA can cause significant damage to the skin.

Eleni Linos says, "Australia and Europe have already led the way in banning tanning beds for children and teenagers, and Brazil has completely banned tanning beds for all ages. I hope that our study supports policy and public health campaigns to limit this carcinogen in the United States.'

Other co-authors of the study are Mackenzie Wehner, a Doris Duke Research Fellow at UCSF; Melissa Shive, a UCSF medical student; Jiali Han, PhD, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School; and Abrar Qureshi, MD, MPH, dermatology vice chairman at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The research was backed by UCSF's Clinical and Translational Science Institute KL2 program and the National Institute of Health.

UCSF aims to promote health around the world through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

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