There is no safe way to tan, according to newly released research conducted at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and Masonic Cancer Center in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota researchers said their study shows a definitive link between tanning beds and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
A healthy dose of sunlight can boost mood, increase vitamin D production and fight off several skin maladies. But too much sun can cause skin cancer even when the “sun” shines from a tanning bed.
“We found that it didn’t matter the type of tanning device used; there was no safe tanning device,” said DeAnn Lazovich, associate professor of epidemiology from the University of Minnesota and lead researcher. “We also found that the risk of getting melanoma is greatly associated more with how much a person tans and not the age at which a person start using tanning devices.”
More than 2,000 Minnesota residents took part in a study monitoring how much time a person spends tanning as the main modifier for the disease versus age as the main modifier.
The study found that risk rises significantly with frequency of use, regardless of age, gender or device. Researchers reported results recently in the journal of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomakers and Prevention.
“I believe this will be a landmark study,” said Dr. Christopher Shea from the University of Chicago who has no affiliation with the research or the U of M, “that will be read widely read by many scientists.”
Although not surprised by the findings, Shea said he is glad to see hard numbers to reinforce what people have thought for years: there is an increased risk or malignant melanoma associated with indoor tanning.
Lazovich's research followed a group of 1,167 people were diagnosed with melanoma and 1,101 people in the control group did not have melanoma. 62.9 percent of the melanoma group tanned indoors and 51.1 percent of the control group tanned indoors according to the study printed in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomakers and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research in the May 27th edition.
According to the National Cancer Institute, melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. The cancer begins in the cells that make up tissue. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells, as the body needs them. When they age, they die and new cells take their place. However, when this process goes wrong, cells do not die when they should. These extra cells make up a tissue mass called a tumor.
Tumors can be benign or malignant, cancerous or not. The only way to know for sure is to have a biopsy and get the cells tested.
Though tumors can be benign, according to Shea, there is no benign form of melanoma, once a cancerous mole is found, it must be removed to make sure the cancer does not metastasize.
One question the study did not address was which is more harmful, direct sunlight for tanning purposes or tanning beds.
However, tanning beds utilize 97 percent UVA lights where as natural sunlight is mainly UVB lights. Both can be harmful in large doses, UVA light contains more radiation and UVB light contains longer wavelengths that cause the skin to burn said Lazovich.
According to Lazovich and Shea, nothing is more effective than clothing, hats, proper sunscreen application and staying out of the sun. Both doctors cited the need to rethink standards of beauty as a driving force behind tanning bed usage.
“We have to get away from the notion that tan skin is a sign of beauty and health. Once we accept that as the norm, we can chance,” said Lazovich.