Cutting the Cancer Costs of Indoor Tanning

Skin cancers related to indoor tanning could be prevented with coordinated approaches

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) More than two million Americans learn they have skin cancer every year. And the most serious form of skin cancer – melanoma – kills more than 9,000 people in the US each year.

There may be an easy way to reduce these numbers, but a coordinated effort is needed.

Indoor tanning is known to increase risks for both skin cancer and melanoma. Both of these diseases are on the rise, particularly among young people.

Two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) papers have outlined various coordinated approaches that could reduce the use of indoor tanning, thus preventing future skin cancers.

"Don’t use indoor tanning devices even once!"

According to the CDC researchers, “Skin cancer is an urgent public health problem.” Between the cost of treatment and lost productivity, skin cancers cost an estimated $5.5 billion. 

“Indoor tanning before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 60-80 percent or more, so avoiding or reducing indoor tanning is a simple way to reduce risk of getting or dying from melanoma," said one of the lead authors, Meg Watson, MPH, of the CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control in Atlanta.

The first paper outlines the cancer burdens of indoor tanning and discuss possible solutions. The second reviews the discussions of an August 2012 CDC meeting with skin cancer experts on ways to prevent the disease and research needs for improving public health perceptions and actions.

Here are some of the findings highlighted in the papers

  • Nearly a third of white women between the ages of 18 and 21 reported using indoor tanning for an average of 27 visits a year.
  • The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that half of high school students reported visiting indoor tanning centers an average of 10 times a year.
  • Indoor tanning, according to previous studies, is often associated with other risky behaviors including smoking, alcohol use, poor diets and recreational drug use.
  • Compliance with state indoor tanning laws is sketchy and not adequately enforced.

Possible solutions discussed included working with individuals, parents, clinicians, schools, mass media and the tanning industry itself.

One suggestion was to find ways to change the perception that a tanned look is desirable. Another possibility could include a mass media campaign featuring celebrities.

“Although many challenges and barriers exist, a coordinated, multilevel, transdisciplinary approach has the potential to reduce indoor tanning and prevent future cases of skin cancer,” the authors concluded.

Susan Y. Chon, MD, associate professor of dermatology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, told dailyRx News, "I agree that the most effective methods to curb indoor tanning require a coordinated effort and everyone’s participation. Accurate information is the best tool. We need to disseminate information to families, teens, physicians and state legislators about the reality of tanning beds.”

Dr. Chon added, “On a state level, I personally believe we should encourage legislation prohibiting tanning bed use in minors, as is already in place in California and Vermont.”

The two papers were published May 7 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 5, 2013
Last Updated:
November 13, 2013