Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, kills 9,500 Americans each year. And rates of melanoma have been on the rise since 1992, at a rate of about 3 percent each year in white women ages 15 to 39. Given this information, a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine is even more disturbing. Although the study did find that indoor tanning use declines after the age of 21, a large number of high school students and young adults are continuing to engage in the practice.
Researchers looked at data from the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey of high school students and the 2010 National Health Interview Survey for adults ages 18 through 34. They found that about 30 percent of high school students reported using a tanning bed in the last 12 months with about 17 percent being frequent users. A frequent tanner was defined as someone who did indoor tanning at least 10 times a year. About 25 percent of women ages 18 to 34 reported some indoor tanning, especially women in the 18 to 21 age group.
There were some limitations of the study, mostly because researchers relied on self-report data which is prone to reporting or recall bias. However, the facts are still concerning, and in some cases, according to previous research, tanning may be classified as an addiction. Dr. Joanna Harp, of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City adds, For some people, looking tan is really important and they continue that habit throughout their life even if they re getting the message that this could cause skin cancer, even if they re getting the message that this could cause premature aging. She urges physicians to continue to try to reach teens and frequent tanners.
ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, With habits like indoor tanning, which is completely unnecessary, it s hard to change people s minds. The messages about tanning beds and their link to skin cancer are very prevalent in our society, yet people choose to ignore them. However, I agree that physicians should regularly relay the messages about the dangers of tanning beds, especially when speaking with younger patients, while at the same time discussing the importance of using sunscreen and other practices to stay safe in the sun. And ultimately, policy changes may be necessary given that the dangers of indoor tanning are well-known and indisputable.