Baked, not Fried

Study shows most indoor-tanning users not aware of skin cancer, melanoma risks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Although skin cancer is the most common form of malignancy in the United States, few tanners mention tanning beds when asked about ways to reduce skin-cancer risks, according to a new report.

The American Cancer Society estimates that as many as one million new cases of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers were diagnosed last year with 8,650 deaths attributable to the diseases. Meanwhile, the indoor-tanning industry is growing rapidly, generating more than $5 billion in annual revenue. More than 30 million Americans use tanning beds and indoor-tanning methods, which expose users to artificial UV radiation. Evidence supports indoor-tanning methods increase risk of skin cancers, both melanoma (the deadliest form) and non-melanoma varieties.

Kelvin Choi, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and colleagues analyzed data collected in the 2005 Health Information National Trends study. A total of 2,869 white participants aged 18 to 64 answered questions about demographics, lifestyle factors and their use of indoor tanning for the study. A subset of those participants (821 respondents) answered questions regarding skin-cancer prevention.

According to the report, 18.1 percent of women and 6.3 percent of men reported using indoor-tanning facilities during the past year. Those who did not report indoor tanning were older, had less education and lower incomes, and used sunscreen regularly. Metropolitan men were more likely to use tanning beds than those who were older, obese and live in rural areas.

Surprisingly, a number of those who spray tan were also use tanning beds.

"The association between spray tanning product use and indoor tanning use in the past 12 months was strong in women and men, significantly more so in men," the authors wrote. "Our finding suggests that, instead of substitution, women and men use both means to obtain a tan-looking appearance."

When asked about ways to prevent skin cancer, most respondents suggested wearing sunscreen, followed by avoiding the sun and wearing hats. Only 13.1 percent and 4.2 percent of women and men, respectively, suggested avoiding tanning beds as a skin-cancer prevention method.

"It is concerning that only a small proportion of adults reported avoidance of indoor tanning bed use to prevent skin cancer," the authors wrote.

Researchers attribute this finding to messages from the indoor tanning industry promoting the possible health benefits of indoor tanning, such as vitamin D production in skin from moderate exposure to artificial UV rays.

"This possibility is also suggested by the fact that women and men who suggested sunscreen use as a method to reduce their skin cancer risk were more likely to have tanned indoors," accoring to the authors.

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells, which can spread to other tissues and organs if left untreated. The three main types of skin cancer are: basal cell carcinoma, the most common form, developing from abnormal growth of the cells in the lowest layer of the epidermis; squamous cell carcinoma, involving changes in the squamous cells in the middle layer of the epidermis; and melanoma, the most dangerous and least common type, occurring in the cells that produce pigment (melanocytes).

Melanoma signs include moles with irregular borders with varying shades and colors.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 21, 2010
Last Updated:
December 21, 2010