The pursuit of the perfect tan could be much more costly than you think. According to experts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation carry a cancer risk that is equivalent to cigarettes. The IARC, a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), has now re-classified UV tanning beds to the highest possible cancer risk category known as "carcinogenic to humans."
Scientists have long suspected that tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation were probable carcinogens, and the results of analysis performed by IARC offer proof that this is true. The analysis reviewed about 20 studies to reach the conclusion that the risk of skin cancer is increased by 75 percent when individuals use tanning beds prior to reaching the age of 30.
Although it was previously believed that only one type of ultraviolet radiation was lethal, the experts also discovered that all types of ultraviolet radiation caused disturbing mutations in mice, offering more proof that the radiation is carcinogenic. The research was published online in the medical journal Lancet Oncology.
The new classification puts tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation in the same top cancer risk category as tobacco, the hepatitis B virus and chimney sweeping, which are all known to be definite causes of cancer. The IARC says that most lights that are used in tanning beds produce ultraviolet radiation that causes skin and eye cancer.
According to Vincent Cogliano, a member of the research team, “People need to be reminded of the risks of sunbeds.” He then added, “We hope the prevailing culture will change so teens don't think they need to use sunbeds to get a tan.” Cogliano also warned that all ultraviolet radiation is unhealthy, whether it comes from a tanning bed or the sun.
Dan Humiston, president of the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) expressed doubt about the recent finding. He said, “The fact that the IARC has put tanning bed use in the same category as sunlight is hardly newsworthy.” He went on to explain, “The UV light from a tanning bed is equivalent to UV light from the sun, which has had a group 1 classification since 1992. Some other items in this category are red wine, beer and salted fish. The ITA has always emphasized the importance of moderation when it comes to UV light from either the sun or a tanning bed.”
Kathy Banks, chief executive of The Sunbed Association, a European trade association of tanning bed makers and operators, disputed the new classification. In a statement she said, “The fact that is continuously ignored is that there is no proven link between the responsible use of sunbeds and skin cancer.” She also noted that people who use tanning beds use do so less than 20 times per year.
However, as the use of tanning beds has significantly increased among people under age 30, physicians have observed a rise in the skin cancer. In fact, prior studies have shown that younger people who use tanning beds on a regular basis have an eight time greater likelihood to develop melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, when compared to those who have never used them. One case in point is that melanoma is now the leading type of cancer diagnosed in Britain for Women in their twenties. Until now, the WHO warned only people younger than 18 to avoid using tanning beds.
According to Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, “This new report confirms and extends the prior recommendation of the American Cancer Society that the use of tanning beds is dangerous to your health, and should be avoided.”
Instead of using a tanning bed, the American Cancer Society advises people to use bronzing or self-tanning creams. The organization has reported that in 2008, approximately 62,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in the United States, with about 8,000 people losing their lives to the deadly cancer.