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January 2018
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Tanning Beds, Ultraviolet Light Damage and Skin Cancer, NJ

Spring is here, days are getting longer, and once again it’s time to talk about sun exposure and skin cancer. There is a strong link between exposure to ultraviolet light from sun exposure or indoor tanning equipment and the risk of developing a skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or the most dangerous skin cancer, melanoma.

The incidence of melanoma is growing faster than any other cancer in the United States. Melanoma is now the sixth most common cancer in the United States and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women between the ages of 20 and 35. Every hour one person dies from melanoma in the United States.

Map of deaths from melanoma and other skin cancers from WHO 2004

World Health Organization map showing deaths from melanoma and other skin cancers. Areas in red have the highest mortality.

Many teens increase their use of tanning beds around this time of the year: some in preparation for the summer beach season, some to “look good” for the prom.

Tanning beds are independent carcinogens according to the World Health Organization.

Looks inviting, doesn't it? Who would think looking at a friendly photo like this that tanning beds were classified by the World Health Organization as an independent carcinogen. A very high price to pay for a tan.

Today’s issue of USA Today reports a Mayo Clinic study that reveals a dramatic rise in skin cancer rates among young adults is leading health officials to shed light on the risk factors, specifically tanning salons, which women are more likely to use.

The risk is higher in those exposed to ultraviolet light before age 20. More than a million people use indoor tanning equipment every day, many of them under 18 years of age.

Women under 40 are hit hardest by the escalating incidence of melanoma, according to the Mayo Clinic study published in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, out today.  The results of the study show that from 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 8-fold among young women and 4-fold among young men. Overall and disease-specific survival seemed to improve over time; hazard ratios comparing year of diagnosis with mortality were 0.92 and 0.91, respectively.

Recently England and Wales placed a ban on the use of indoor tanning equipment by persons under 18 years of age. In the United Stated, legislation to ban teen use of tanning beds is pending in a number of States. Studies find that teens whose parents use indoor tanning equipment are more likely to use it themselves.

According to the February 2012 update of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the following states have banned the use of tanning beds by minors under 14 years of age, and some under 18 years of age:

  • California – under 18
  • Delaware – under 14
  • Illinois – under 14
  • Maine – under 14
  • New Hampshire – under 14
  • New Jersey – under 14
  • New York – under 14
  • North Carolina – under 13
  • North Dakota – under 14
  • Texas – under 16.5
  • Wisconsin – under 16

A number of other states require minors to have parental permission to use tanning beds.  The Mayo Clinic study underscores the fact that the existing age limits are too low.

In a recent position statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics joined with the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology in supporting the ban on tanning bed use for all minors.

In order to decrease the risk of skin cancer, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Avoid indoor tanning equipment altogether.
  2. Avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.
  3. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 50 on a daily basis, and don’t forget to reapply often, especially if swimming or sweating.
  4. Use sun-protective clothing when in the sun.
  5. Protect children from sun exposure as ultraviolet light damage before age 20 greatly increases the risk of skin cancer.

Melanoma Detection: See your dermatologist for a full-body skin examination once a year or more often if you have risk factors for skin cancer.

Identifying malignant melanoma: ABCDE Rule

Malignant melanoma

Malignant Melanoma

Border Irregularity
Color Irregularity
Diameter greater than 1/4 inch (but may be smaller if detected early)
Evolving – Any changing mole is suspect. See your dermatologist.


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