The popularity of tanning beds is on the rise, and it’s coming with a price: skin cancer. That’s the conclusion of a study carried out by the Mayo Clinic on patients diagnosed with melanoma between 1970 and 2009. Over the course of the nearly four decades analyzed, skin cancer cases increased nearly four fold for men and a whopping eight fold for women. While the sample was relatively small, the results were extremely troubling. Lead researcher Dr Jerry Brewer made no bones about his theory behind the spike.
“A recent study reported that people who use indoor tanning beds frequently are 74 per cent more likely to develop melanoma, and we know young women are more likely to use them than young men,” Brewer said in a statement.
“The results of this study emphasize the importance of active interventions to decrease risk factors for skin cancer and, in particular, to continue to alert young women that indoor tanning has carcinogenic effects that increase the risk of melanoma.”
Melanoma is a particularly nasty form of cancer, the most deadly type of skin cancer and the leading cause of death from skin disease. And cases of melanoma from tanning bed use are the worst kind of cancer: the kind that’s 100% preventable unless you engage in risky behaviors — like tanning.
The study results had a slight silver lining: over the years, survival rates of melanoma have improved, primarily due to better detection and more advanced treatments. However, with survival rates of the most severe stage of melanoma at 15-20% at best, the better option would be to not get cancer in the first place.
But this message appears to fall on deaf ears, especially with youth. There are a variety of factors behind the popularity of tanning beds: vanity and the wish to always appear with a golden skin tone, as if from a trip somewhere hot and sunny; pop culture and celebrities who are popularizing and even promoting the dangerous practice; there’s even a theory that the tanning beds themselves are addictive, giving users an endorphin rush and leaving withdrawal-like symptoms when they stop using the beds.
Yet tanning remains a perfectly legal pastime, despite its dangers. Should vanity be outlawed, or is it your skin, your risk?
Photo from Leyla.A on Flickr.