Using tanning beds at an early age significantly increases a woman’s risk of developing melanoma before age 50, a new study finds.
A study of adults ages 25 to 49 found that the risk of deadly skin cancer increased two to six times in women who tanned indoors. The highest odds were seen among those who used tanning beds in their teens and twenties.
“All women who use indoor tanning are at risk for melanoma, but the most potent risk was among women who tanned in their twenties, who were about six times more likely to develop the disease, compared to women who they didn’t tan indoors, “said lead researcher DeAnn Lazovich, associate professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota.
The findings support a recent proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban indoor tanning before age 18, Lazovich said. But he added that “we must do even more to reduce the epidemic of melanoma that has been going on for several years.”
Lazovich suggested even stricter regulations, such as raising the age for tanning beds to 21. Or even better, he argued, “we could ban indoor tanning altogether, like Australia did.”
The report appears online January 27 in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 74,000 Americans were diagnosed with melanoma last year, and nearly 10,000 died from the disease. That rate has been on the rise for 30 years, and women are more likely than men to develop this type of cancer, the study authors noted in their background notes. Many cases are caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or other sources.
Lazovich and his collaborators wanted to assess the possible connection between tanning beds, which women use more often than men, and melanoma. They collected data on nearly 700 men and women ages 25 to 49 who had been diagnosed with skin cancer between 2004 and 2007, and compared them with a similar number of “controls.”
Women ages 30 to 39 had a more than three times higher risk of melanoma if they tanned indoors, and women ages 40 to 49 had more than double the risk, Lazovich said.
Additionally, women younger than 40 with melanoma reported starting indoor tanning earlier than women ages 40 to 49, around 16 rather than 25, the study found.
Younger women with melanoma also reported more tanning sessions than older women, with an average of 100 tanning sessions compared to 40 sessions in women diagnosed between 40 and 49, the researchers said.
The location of the melanoma offers clues to its cause, the authors said. They used melanomas on the trunk, or torso, as a sign that those people had exposed their chest and back during indoor tanning sessions.
The researchers found that about 33 percent of women diagnosed before age 30 had melanomas on the trunk, compared with 24 percent of those who were 40 to 49 years old. Among the 63 women diagnosed with melanoma before age 30, only two said they had not used tanning beds, the researchers found.
The researchers were unable to establish an association with indoor tanning in men, “in part because they are much less likely to tan indoors and there are far fewer men who develop melanoma before age 50,” Lazovich said. “We didn’t find that much happened among men, it was all among women.”
He commented that one of the problems with melanoma prevention is changing the perception that tanned skin is attractive, and seeing it for what it really is: dangerous.
Gery Guy Jr., a health economist in the Division of Cancer Prevention at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said “indoor tanning can and should be avoided.” .
In addition to the risk of melanoma, indoor tanning can lead to premature skin aging, including wrinkles, blemishes and changes in skin texture, said Guy, author of an editorial accompanying the study in the journal.
The scientific evidence “is clear and overwhelming: every time you tan indoors, you increase your risk of melanoma,” Guy warned. “And unlike tanning, which is temporary, the increased risk of melanoma is permanent.”