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Indoor tanning poses cancer risk to teens, young adults

A new study assessed the risk of basal cell skin carcinoma and the use of tanning beds among a younger population
A new study assessed the risk of basal cell skin carcinoma and the use of tanning beds among a younger population
Robin Wulffson, MD

Evidence continues to accumulate that indoor tanning with ultraviolet radiation-emitting lamps poses a skin cancer risk, particularly among teens and young adults. A new study assessed the risk of basal cell skin carcinoma and the use of tanning beds among a younger population. The findings were published online on June 23 in the journal Pediatrics. The study falls on the heels of a March 29 announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it is beefing up its regulation of sunlamp products such as tanning beds or tanning booths. The increased regulation was based on studies that have found that these devices increase the risk of skin cancer, including deadly melanomas. In addition, sunlamp products can cause permanent or temporary eye damage.

The authors of the new study note that indoor tanning with ultraviolet radiation–emitting lamps is common among adolescents and young adults. They explain that increasing incidences of basal cell carcinoma have been reported for the US, particularly among individuals diagnosed at younger ages. Furthermore, recent epidemiologic studies have suggested that indoor tanning may be contributing to the early development of basal cell carcinoma, and younger individuals may be particularly vulnerable to an increased skin cancer risk from this exposure. Therefore, the study authors attempted to evaluate this situation in a case–controlled study from a New Hampshire population. A case-controlled study compares the occurrence of a disease or condition among those exposed to a certain entity and those not, in this case, indoor tanning.

The study group comprised 657 cases of basal cell carcinoma and 452 controls 50 years of age or younger. Data regarding indoor tanning were obtained from all subjects. The researchers found that early-onset basal cell carcinoma was related to indoor tanning, with 1.6-fold increased risk. The strongest association was found for first exposure as a teen or young adult; a 10% increase in the risk was found with each age younger at first exposure (increased risk per year among individuals 23 years old or younger was 1.1). Associations with basal cell carcinoma were found for each type of device examined: sunlamps, tanning beds, and tanning booths.

The investigators concluded that their findings suggest that early exposure to indoor tanning increases the risk of early development of basal cell carcinoma. Furthermore, the findings stress the importance of counseling adolescents and young adults regarding the risks of indoor tanning and for discouraging parents from giving consent to their minor children for partaking in this practice.

The study authors are affiliated with Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center at Dartmouth (Hanover, New Hampshire), Geisel School of Medicine (Hanover, New Hampshire), University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada), and University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Take home message:

This is yet another study to point out the skin cancer risk from exposure to ultraviolet radiation-emitting lamps. The risk is higher among fair-complected individuals; thus, a Scandinavian has a much higher risk than an African American. However, dark-complected people are also at risk—it just takes more exposure

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