Do Tanning Beds Cause Skin Cancer?

 The NP Answers Your FAQ: Do Tanning Beds Cause Skin Cancer?   

Spring break heralds in the start of sunny days and beach parties.  Students will be enjoying the California sunshine, wearing bathing suits, shorts and tank tops. Tanning salons are very popular in Southern California because busy students don’t have time to bask in the sun at the beach or by the pool attaining that “perfect tan”.

But how risky are tanning beds?    Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can be divided into Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB). UVB has long been associated with sunburn while UVA has been recognized as a deeper penetrating form of radiation. It is well known that too much UV radiation can be harmful to the skin. While skin cancer has been associated with sunburn, moderate tanning, such as with tanning beds, may also produce the same effect. New information now make these warnings even more important    

According to a recent report published in the March 1, 2007 issue of International Journal of Cancer , the use of tanning beds before the age of 35 substantially increases the lifetime risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, by 75%.  Malignant melanoma, now with a suspected link to UVA exposure, is often fatal if not detected early. The number of cases of melanoma is rising in the U.S., with an estimated 38,300 cases and 7,300 deaths anticipated this year, according to the FDA.   

Who is at greatest risk? People with skin types I (always burns, never tans) and skin type II (burns easily, tans minimally) are at greatest risk.  Most sun lamps emit mainly UVA radiation, so- called “tanning rays”. It has been thought that UVA is less likely to cause sunburn than UVB radiation from sunlight. But, contrary to the claims of some tanning parlors, that doesn’t make them safe. UVA rays have a suspected link to malignant melanoma and immune system damage.   

The FDA and CDC are encouraging people to avoid the use of tanning beds and sun lamps. You can obtain a fact sheet on the hazards of indoor tanning from the FDA’s “Facts on Demand” system by calling 1-800-899-0381 or   

How can I limit my risk of getting skin cancer?*
Avoid the use of tanning beds and sun lamps.*
Avoid sun between 10 AM and 4 PM.
Wear broad-brimmed hats and clothing to prevent exposure.
Wear sunglasses that provide 100% UV ray protection.
Apply broad spectrum sunscreen with sun-protection factor
  (SPF) of 30 to block UVA and UVB. 
Perform skin self-examinations regularly.

I remind my patients to remember the ABCDs of a malignant melanoma:
A= Asymmetry: one half of the lesion unlike the other half.
B= Border: irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
C=Color: varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black sometimes white, red or blue.
D=Diameter: larger than 6mm as a rule (diameter of a pencil eraser)    If you notice a new mole or a change in an existing mole, if you have a history of blistering sunburns, a mole that has one of the ABCDs, a family history of skin cancer and a history of using tanning beds, please make an appointment for a skin evaluation. Remember! Prompt surgical excision of an early melanoma offers an excellent chance of a cure.  


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