Tanning Bed Dangers

It's probably time to relegate tanning beds to the dump heap, along with cigarettes and other human inventions known to cause cancer.  That's my conclusion according to a study in the British Medical Journal, taking a look at the incidence of cutaneous melanoma, the worst kind of skin cancer, in those who used tanning beds.  And as I admit to Rick in this week's PodMed, although I sport a tan in summer months I know it is increasingly a social faux pas, but at least I come by mine through cycling rather than paying for UV exposure in a salon.  That's not going to make much difference, I know, if I develop melanoma at some point, but at least my cardiovascular health should be stellar.

Here's a statement from the paper I think is priceless:  "Powerful ultraviolet tanning units may be 10-15 times stronger than the midday sunlight on the Mediterranean Sea, and repeated exposure to large amounts of ultraviolet A delivered to the skin in relatively short periods (typically 10-20 minutes) constitutes a new experience for humans." Italics mine.  In the preamble the paper also states that the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the entire UV spectrum of light as well as indoor tanning devices as group 1 carcinogens in humans. So why are these things still on the planet?  But I digress.

The study was a meta-analysis of observational studies looking at tanning, or sunbed use and basal or squamous cell carcinoma or cutaneous melanoma published to May 2012.  A total of 27 studies were included, representing over 11,000 cases of melanoma, over 1200 cases of squamous cell carcinoma  and just shy of 7000 cases of basal cell carcinoma.  The latter two were assessed in far fewer studies included in this analysis so numbers and proportions don't reflect population-based statistics.

The study estimates that 6.9% of all melanoma cases occurring annually in women are due to sunbed use, while 3.7% of those arising in men have the same cause.  This would mean that almost 500 women and 300 men die annually in these European countries of melanoma related to tanning bed use.   More cases of melanoma arise when tanning behavior is initiated before age 35 and is also dose-related, the study found.    

Well.  In the face of abundant evidence of the dangers of these devices, it is astonishing to me that anyone would continue to use them.  In light of the age and dose relationships, parents should clearly discourage their children from tanning bed use.  Perhaps at some point enough public will will accrue and the devices will simply stop being made.  For now, avoidance is the clear message.

Other topics this week on PodMed include fracture risk following cataract surgery in JAMA, and endoscopic versus open vein graft harvesting in the same issue. The final study takes a look at malaria vaccine efficacy in the Lancet.  Until next week, y'all live well.        


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