Are tanning beds a cancer risk?
International cancer experts have determined, once and for all, that the use of tanning beds and any other device that transmits any kind of ultraviolet or UV radiation do cause cancer. How have they done this? By moving up tanning beds, sun lamps, and similar devices to “the highest risk category”, the same as very dangerous poisons, such as mustard gas.
The new classification for these devices is more than just a symbolic gesture. It means that there is now medical support for the belief that tanning beds and UV rays definitely cause cancer in humans, just as tobacco smoke, and the hepatitis B virus do — two other things listed in the “highest risk category”. It also means that worldwide bans on these devices are being considered.
This information was handed down by the International Agency for Cancer Research (known as IARC). This group is the World Health Organization’s cancer study wing and is based in Lyon, France. The announcement on the updated cancer risk level for tanning beds appeared in a piece of research published this week in the online branch of the medical journal Lancet Oncology. Before this announcement, the IARC determined that tanning beds and other UV delivery devices were “probably carcinogenic to humans”. This has been changed to “definitively carcinogenic to humans”.
Doctors who support the move believe this announcement will increase already tight pressure on the tanning bed industry to regulate the use of UV delivery devices. This isn’t more of the so called “Nanny State” — there is hard evidence that the link between tanning beds and skin cancer is incredibly high. This announcement is just the latest in a long string of similar charges made in medical journals.
As expected, representatives from the tanning bed industry have been quick to state that there is no proof that there is a link between the “responsible use of tanning beds and skin cancer”. Sure, if you ignore the last ten years of medical science.
The IARC is made up of cancer experts charged with making recommendations related to cancer to the World Health Organization. This is not some group of people set to profit from the collapse of tanning.
The IARC made this decision after a lengthy review of scientific research which determined that the risk of melanoma — which is the deadliest form of skin cancer in humans — was increased by an average of 75% in people who use tanning beds regularly before the age of 30. The link to age is also interesting, and presents a worse picture for tanning salons everywhere — the tanning industry will now be painted as “giving our kids cancer”. Not usually a good sign for any business.
An additional risk of a very scary cancer was found through the us of tanning beds. The recent IARC declaration is not the only group to notice that there is much greater risk for a teenager to develop melanoma of the eye if that person uses a tanning device. Take your pick — melanoma of the eye or slightly paler skin?
Cancer Research UK, a huge charity group dedicated to cancer awareness, already made a warning earlier this year that even average use of tanning beds or sun lamps is mostly responsible for the rising number of people worldwide being diagnosed with melanoma. In fact, that number jumped to over 10,000 a year in Great Britain alone for the first time this year. Over the last three decades, melanoma rates in the UK have quadrupled and then some. In 1977, for instance, there were 3.4 cases of melanoma per 100,000 people. In 2006, that number was nearly 15 per 100,000.
The British government will be one of the first to act to protect its citizens. There is already a proposal in Great Britain to ban the use of tanning devices in people under the age of 18. A ban on tanning beds has already taken place in Scotland. The representatives we quoted earlier have weighed in on this topic, and they agree that a ban on people under the age of 16 is negotiable, but they make the argument, again, that “there is no scientific evidence for a ban on people aged 17 or 18”.
The fact is this — now that we know that exposure to UV rays of all kinds (A, B, or C) creates a huge risk of getting cancer, the responsible thing to do is to avoid tanning beds for cosmetic purposes. In fact, there is no health benefit to tanning, and armed with the knowledge that cancer is a distinct possibility, it is the opinion of many in the medical community that these devices should be banned worldwide.