January 19, 2010

FDA Mulls Tanning Bed Cancer Threat

With spring break just around the corner, the FDA is trying to get out the message that even though sunburns are particularly dangerous, tanning beds still have the risk of causing cancer.

WHO's cancer division last summer listed tanning beds as definitive cancer-causers, right alongside the ultraviolet radiation that both they and the sun emit. An analysis of numerous studies concluded the risk of melanoma jumps by 75 percent in people who used tanning beds in their teens and 20s.

Fair-skinned people are at the highest risk. Nearly 69,000 U.S. cases of melanoma were diagnosed last year, and about 8,650 people died.

FDA official Sharon Miller told the Associated Press, "We don't recommend using them at all, but we know people do use them so we want to make them as low-risk as possible."

The Indoor Tanning Association is fighting pending legislation that will tax tanning salons to help pay for Congress' health care overhaul.

A good tan provides the equivalent of a sunscreen rated just SPF-4, and even good tanners can get melanoma, says Dr. Margaret Tucker of the National Cancer Institute. Their risk, like everybody's, increases with increasing UV exposure.

Dr. David Fisher says, "If there was enough (UV) to give you a tan, it had to have triggered DNA damage."

Fisher, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, explains that a protein called p53 is activated by genetic damage from UV rays. Its main job is to mend such damage, but it also sets off a chain reaction "” triggering production of a hormone that filters down to pigment-producing cells called melanocytes and orders them to color the skin's surface.

"In other words, "the very pathway for tanning is directly biochemically linked to the same pathway of carcinogenesis," he told the AP.

He acknowledged that it's impossible to predict if a drop in indoor tanning might translate into less cancer because everyone gets sun.

"We don't want people to become indoor cave-dwellers," says NCI's Tucker.

So be out in the early morning and late afternoon, when those UV rays penetrate less, and use sunscreen.


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