New Findings: Indoor Tanning is to Skin Cancer as Smoking is to Lung Cancer

Feb 25, 2014 No Comments by

If you believe that indoor tanning isn’t dangerous, this finding from a study recently released by JAMA Dermatology might change that.

In likely the first summary of international indoor tanning exposure, researchers determined that the number of diagnosed skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking.

Can It Be True?   

Taken at face value, the study tells us what smoking is to lung cancer, indoor tanning is to skin cancer. And in fact JAMA Dermatology provides documented evidence gathered in the US, Australia and Northern and Western Europe. Researchers reported:

“Overall, we estimate 419,039 cases of basal and squamous cell carcinoma (NMSC) and 10,888 cases of melanoma each year attributable to indoor tanning. To put this in perspective, approximately 362,941 cases of lung cancer are attributable to smoking each year in these regions.”

However, the same study notes that the general risk for lung cancer is much higher (it assumes 90 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses are attributable to smoking) than for skin cancer (up to 22 percent among indoor tanners). And the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on February 4 that lung, breast and colon cancers are still the most diagnosed worldwide.

But the new figures suggest an even more alarming trend. While smoking is declining worldwide, indoor tanning may actually be increasing. And the Skin Cancer Foundation cites a study by the American Cancer Society which says that each year in the US there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

Work To Be Done

Several US states have banned or restricted indoor tanning, and many others are considering it. But, while the WHO considers indoor tanning a group 1 carcinogen, tanning beds in the US are still regulated by the FDA as Class 1 medical devices (the same as bandages and tongue depressors).

Perhaps the best context for the work that still needs to be done comes from the JAMA Dermatology researchers, who said: “Despite the mounting evidence of harms of indoor tanning, data on the scope of this problem, with which to guide public health efforts are missing.”

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