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Sun beds may explain the rise in skin cancer in young people

There has been a huge increase in one type of skin cancer in recent decades, especially among young people. New research says the popularity of indoor tanning using sun beds may explain the rise.

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

tanning bed

There are two categories of skin cancer: malignant melanoma (the most serious type) and non-melanoma skin cancer (also known as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma).

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. About 30 in 100 white people living in areas of high exposure to ultraviolet radiation (countries near the equator) will be diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime.

Although non-melanoma skin cancer is usually treatable, in 2010, 546 people in the UK died from this type of cancer.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is common in older men, but in recent decades, there has been a sharp increase in diagnosis of the cancer in women and young people (both men and women).

We already know that indoor tanning - which emits ultraviolet radiation - is strongly associated with an increased risk of melanoma, the more deadly form of skin cancer. Several studies have also shown a link between indoor tanning and non-melanoma skin cancer, but most of the studies have been small and the results contradictory or inconclusive.

Researchers have now pooled the results of 12 studies to get a clearer picture of whether indoor tanning is linked to non-melanoma skin cancer. The studies were published between 1985 and 2012 and included data from 80,661 people in six different countries.

What does the new study say?

The researchers found that people who use indoor tanning have a greater chance of developing basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. The risk is raised by about a third for basal cell and two thirds for squamous cell. The risks are higher for people under 25 years of age. Using indoor tanning more often also raises the risk.

The researchers estimate that indoor tanning is responsible for more than 170,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in the US each year.

How reliable is the research?

This study was a systematic review and meta-analysis, which is the best way to combine information from a number of studies. By combining data from a number of small studies, researchers can make a more reliable association between indoor tanning and non-melanoma skin cancer than any of the studies on their own. However, the studies in the review were observational studies. That means they can show a strong link between skin cancer and sun indoor tanning, but cannot prove that one causes the other.

What does this mean for me?

Previous studies have already shown that indoor tanning is linked to an increased risk of developing malignant melanoma. This new study shows that indoor tanning is also linked to non-melanoma skin cancers. Considering these risks, it is advisable to avoid indoor tanning altogether, especially if you are young (under 25 years of age) or have fair skin.

Published on October 04, 2012

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