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Americans Ignore Risks Of Indoor Tanning

December 22, 2010

Americans are either ignoring or are unaware of the dangers of indoor tanning, according to a new survey released Tuesday by researchers at the University of Minnesota.

The survey found that 18 percent of women and more than 6 percent of men saying they had tanned indoors at least once during the previous year.  However, when asked, just 13.3 percent of women and 4.2 percent of men said avoiding tanning beds were among the ways to reduce skin cancer risk. 

Furthermore, only 5.8 of women and 5.6 percent of men reported that they should be evaluated for skin cancer, the survey found.

“Skin cancer is the most common form of malignancy in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimated that 1 million new cases of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer were diagnosed in 2009; 8,650 deaths were attributable to melanoma skin cancer,” the authors of the study wrote.

“Despite a recent meta-analysis that supported a positive association between increased use of indoor tanning and both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, the indoor tanning industry is still growing rapidly, generating more than $5 billion in annual revenues, and has attracted more than 30 million patrons, primarily women,” they said.

Indoor tanning was most popular among young women, with about 33 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 24 and 25 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 34 saying they tanned indoors.

This may explain why a growing number of women under the age of 40 are being diagnosed with skin cancer, said study author Dr. Kelvin Choi of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

“Simply avoiding indoor tanning booths and beds is just the simplest way to reduce the risk of getting skin cancer,” he told Reuters.

Choi and his colleagues reviewed responses collected from 2,869 people about their use of indoor tanning in the previous year, and found that one-third of the respondents also listed what they believed were the most important actions people could take to reduce their risk of skin cancer.

Younger women who were more educated, lived in the South or Midwest, and used spray tanning products were more likely to say they tanned indoors, the researchers found.  Men who lived in metropolitan areas and used spray tanning were also more likely to undergo indoor tanning.

“The association between spray tanning product use and indoor tanning use in the past 12 months was strong in women and men, significantly more so in men,” the study’s authors wrote.

“Our finding suggests that, instead of substitution, women and men use both means to obtain a tan-looking appearance.”

“It’s not like they are using spray tanning products as a replacement for tanning indoors,” Choi said.

The study’s findings suggest that many may not understand the risks of indoor tanning, or may even wrongly believe it has benefits, he added.

For instance, a common, but false, belief is that indoor tanning offers protection from the sun by providing a base tan, and that it can be a safe source of vitamin D, Choi said.

“The so-called base tan is a sign of sun damage,” Choi said, adding that some research suggests it merely adds to the damage from additional outdoor sun.

“It is concerning that only a small proportion of adults reported avoidance of indoor tanning bed use to prevent skin cancer,” the authors wrote.

“Perhaps people are confused by the messages from the indoor tanning industry on possible benefits of indoor tanning, e.g. getting vitamin D from moderate exposure to artificial UV radiation. This possibility is also suggested by the fact that women and men who suggested sunscreen use as a method to reduce their skin cancer risk were more likely to have tanned indoors.”

“Strategies such as clinician-patient communication and media campaigns that focus on strategically disseminating the harms of indoor tanning to the adult population may be needed to reduce the prevalence of indoor tanning among adults in the United States,” they concluded.

The study was published in the December issue of Archives of Dermatology.

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