Indoor tanning joins tobacco, others to top cancer risk list

Kristyn Soltis

Some students say they’ll take chance

International cancer experts have moved tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation into the top cancer risk category to join arsenic, mustard gas, asbestos and tobacco.

The researchers concluded through an analysis of about 20 studies that the risk for skin cancer increases by 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before the age of 30. Most lights used in tanning beds give off mainly ultraviolet radiation, which causes skin and eye cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Junior communications major Miranda Reed said she isn’t concerned about the increased risk of indoor tanning.

“I go tanning once a week,” Reed said. “I have other things that are going to kill me before cancer does.”

Signs of Melanoma

ABCDE’s for signs of melanoma

•A is for asymmetry. If you draw a line through the mole, the two halves will not match.

•B is for border. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.

•C is for color. Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, blue or some other color.

•D is for diameter and typically diameter greater than six millimeters, which is the size of a pencil eraser.

•E is for evolution for things that change. Any change – in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting – points to danger.

Source: Skin Cancer Foundation

Dr. Amy Kassouf, from University Dermatologists in Cleveland, said she has seen six cases of melanoma within the past quarter.

“Just like they knew how deadly smoking was long before publicly it was decided it was deadly, the same thing is happening here,” Kassouf said. “Scientists have researched for decades that this was a cancer-causing agent.”

The Indoor Tanning Association issued a press release shortly after the study was released explaining consumers will only face an increased risk of cancer if they overexpose themselves in tanning beds.

The press release states, “UV light from a tanning bed is the same as UV light from the sunshine, which has had the ‘group 1’ classification since 1992. So it’s no surprise that tanning beds have now been put in this category as it has long been understood that overexposure to UV light, whether from the sunshine or a tanning bed, is associated with increased risk of some forms of cancer. This is why the Indoor Tanning Association has always emphasized the importance of moderation.”

Kassouf said there is no such thing as moderation when it comes to ultraviolet light. She suggests people steer clear of tanning beds to avoid the increased risk of melanoma.

There are two steps in cancer formation, the initiation step and the promotion step. The initiation step, she said, is where a change is made in the cell that makes it potentially become cancerous. The promotion step is when that cell begins replicating without control, leading to cancer.

“Ultraviolet light can do both steps,” Kassouf said. “It can initiate the change in the cells and then it can promote their progression into cancer. So it’s the complete package as far as carcinogens go. It can do it all.”

Kassouf said thin, early melanomas are easily treated with a 99 percent survival rate.

“So if you catch them very early, which is why we like to see people for skin checks, then it’s a surgical disease, you cut it out and you’re done,” Kassouf said.

If the melanoma is more advanced – also known as metastatic melanoma – and goes to the lymph nodes, brain or bone, which is then more difficult to treat.

“There’s some experimental treatments that are showing promise, but right now we don’t have a good regimen that treats metastasis melanoma,” Kassouf said.

In the press release, Dan Humiston, Indoor Tanning Association president, warns the public not to fall for media scare tactics.

“Because tanning beds produce the same UV light as the sun, overexposure and abuse of our product – just like overexposure to sunlight – is associated with an increased risk for some types of skin cancer. Other items in this category are red wine and salted fish. Scientific studies suggest that drinking red wine or other alcoholic beverages carries a greater cancer risk than tanning. It is completely irresponsible to compare indoor tanning with mustard gas or arsenic as so many media reports today have done.”

Kaci Overman, senior fashion merchandising major, said including indoor tanning in the top category for carcinogens is a fair assessment as long as the appropriate research has been conducted.

“You can’t really argue with medical facts,” Overman said.

Overman said she would still go tanning, but not on a regular basis.

Contact principal reporter Kristyn Soltis at [email protected].