We know that habitual sunburns can lead to all three common types of skin cancer: melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. But what about artificial tanning devices, such as sunlamps and tanning beds? Do they increase your chances of developing skin cancer? Some scientific evidence suggests that tanning devices increase your risk of melanoma, but the effects of tanning devices on carcinomas has not been studied extensively. A recent study published in the
Journal of the National Cancer Institute
suggests that tanning devices do, in fact, increase your risk of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.
About the study
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School studied 603 New Hampshire residents with basal cell carcinoma, 293 with squamous cell carcinoma, and 540 with no skin cancer (control subjects). The skin cancer patients were identified via a network of medical practices; all had been diagnosed with skin cancer between July 1, 1993 and June 30, 1995. Control subjects were chosen from listings of the state's Department of Transportation and Medicare program. Participants were men and women between the ages of 25 and 74, and the skin cancer and control groups were similar in terms of age and sex.
Research interviewers personally interviewed each participant about the following risk factors for skin cancer:
Tendency to sunburn
Time spent outdoors
History of sunbathing
Number of painful sunburns
Previous radiation treatment (including x-rays)
Use of a sunlamp or tanning bed
Age at first and last use of a sunlamp or tanning bed
Neither the interviewers nor the participants were aware that the study was designed to look at the effects of tanning devices on skin cancer.
The researchers compared the number of people with skin cancer who had used a tanning device before their skin cancer diagnoses with the number of controls who had used a tanning device.
People who had used tanning devices were 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than people who did not use tanning devices. In calculating these statistics, the researchers factored in participants' other risk factors for skin cancer, which had been gleaned from the personal interviews.
There are limitations to this study, however. For example, control subjects were assumed to be skin cancer free because they had not been diagnosed with skin cancer at the time of their study interviews. However, it's possible that they had undetected skin cancer or had yet to develop skin cancer. In addition, the study depended on participants accurately remembering their history of sunburns, sunbathing, and tanning lamp use many years in the past. Errors in recalling this information may have compromised the accuracy of the information provided.
How does this affect you?
Should you skip the sessions at the tanning salon? Absolutely. Unless, of course, your doctor has prescribed controlled tanning lamp use for medical purposes.
Don't be fooled by the fact that tanning lamps emit mostly UVA rays, which are less likely to cause sunburn than UVB rays. Even though UVA rays are less likely to cause sunburn (a risk factor for skin cancer), scientific research indicates that melanoma may be associated with exposure to UVA rays. And now, this recent study in the
Journal of the National Cancer Institute
suggests that tanning lamps may increase your risk of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, as well. As a whole, the research so far suggests that tanning devices may increase your risk of both the deadliest skin cancer (melanoma) and the more treatable skin cancers (basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas).
Karagas MR, et al. Use of Tanning Devices and Risk of Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinomas. Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
February 6, 2002;94(3):224-226.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a