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Tanning Beds Are Cancer Threat

July 29, 2009

The World Health Organization’s cancer research agency announced Wednesday that tanning beds and other forms of ultraviolet radiation now rank alongside cigarettes and asbestos as a top-level cancer threat, AFP reported.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found soaking up UV rays at tanning salons significantly enhances the chances of developing the disease.

Vincent Cogliano, an IARC researcher who led the new assessment, said the use of sunbeds is carcinogenic to humans and causes melanoma of the skin and eye.

Findings published in the British medical journal Lancet Oncology say the risk of melanoma, which is considered the most lethal form of skin cancer, increases by 75 percent when use of tanning devices starts before the age of 30.

However, numerous national health agencies have long warned against using sunbeds.

Animal research and epidemiological studies of cancer rates among humans have provided a high threshold of scientific proof labeling sunbeds a carcinogen comparable to tobacco, asbestos and alcohol.

While it is not the IARC’s role to issue recommendations, Cogliano said he hoped the new evaluation would bring attention to the issue.

The new research now has many physicians calling for tighter regulations on the multi-billion dollar tanning industry.

Nina Goad, spokeswoman for the British Association of Dermatologists, said they welcome the recognition that sunbeds are carcinogenic.

“It is high time that steps were taken to regulate the industry, to prevent children using sunbeds, and to ensure that sunbeds are subject to health warnings like other known carcinogens,” she said.

Meanwhile, George Reuter, the head of France’s National Union of Dermatologists, said they have been trying to call the attention of the government to the potential risks for a long time.

He told AFP the tubes emitting UV rays vary in intensity and can become more dangerous over time, thus highlighting the need for stricter oversight.

However, neither association is calling for an outright ban of sunbeds.

Reuter said many dermatologists in France simply advise their patients not to exceed 10 sessions in a year.

He believes the solution is to inform the public, not to outlaw sunbeds, adding that those who use the devices to stay tanned year round are especially at risk.

Goad said that people have the right to make their own health choices, noting that other known carcinogens are not banned.

“So I don’t think you want to set a precedent with sunbeds,” he said.

An industry lobby group based in Britain, known as the sunbed association, disputed the IARC’s reclassification of tanning devices as carcinogenic to humans.

The group said in a statement: “The relationship between UV exposure and an increased risk of developing skin cancer is only likely to arise where over-exposure — i.e. burning — has taken place.”

Kathy Banks, chief executive of The Sunbed Association, a European trade association of tanning bed makers and operators disputed the classification of tanning beds as carcinogenic.

Banks argued it is continuously ignored that there is no proven link between the responsible use of sunbeds and skin cancer, adding that most users of tanning beds use them less than 20 times a year.

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