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Tanning beds as carcinogenic as asbestos and cigarettes

July 28, 2009 |  3:30 pm

Tanning The ultraviolet light used in tanning beds is as carcinogenic as asbestos, arsenic, radium and cigarettes, a special committee of the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded. The use of sunlamps had previously been classified only as "probably carcinogenic in humans." Moreover, the committee concluded that all types of UV radiation induce cancer, not just the UV-B that has been implicated in the past. Some tanning salons claim to use only UV-A, which was thought to be safer, but the committee said that is not the case.

The committee of 20 scientists from nine countries met in June and reviewed more than 20 studies in humans, as well as animal studies. They reported online in the journal Lancet Oncology that the risk of skin cancer increases 75% when people start using tanning beds before age 30. They also found that all types of ultraviolet radiation caused tumors, not just UV-B.

UV radiation produces a specific mutation in DNA in skin cells, converting a cytidine base to thymidine, thereby triggering the cancer process. The studies show that this transformation occurs no matter what type of UV radiation is employed.

Previous studies have shown that younger people who use tanning beds regularly are eight times as likely to get melanoma as those who do not. Melanoma is also becoming increasingly prevalent in young people, whereas at one time it was observed mostly in those over age 75. The American Cancer Society urges young people to use bronzing creams rather than tanning beds.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

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Comments (42)

Its always something. There's something fundamentally wrong with a hypothesis that says one of the main ingredients of the very source of life (sun ) causes cancer and you should steer clear. Really? That's your suggestion? Don't go out in the sun anymore? This is from the crack heads that said eggs were bad for you and to eat more margarine. Crawl back in your worm hole. We don't need your help. Maybe its the UV rays interaction with margarine thats causing the cancer? What a bunch of dummy's

That is the very definition of ignorant.

Peter, you should probably check your grammar before calling people dummies. The plural form of dummy is dummies. Apostrophes do not denote the plural, they denote the possessive.

Ex: I have three dogs.
The dog's food smells bad.

I'm not even going to start on how stupid the rest of your statement sounds.

Peter, "dummy's" is the possessive form of "dummy" -- which kinda make you look like one. These "dummies" as you call them, just want you to be safe. Ultraviolet light from the sun is widely dispersed, but narrowly concentrated on a tanning bed. It is similar to the way orange juice can be freshly squeezed, or concentrated into a tube of frozen pasteurized muck. Go ahead and continue to bake yourself into that horrid orange fake-tan sheen, and you might one day find yourself going under the knife to have a bit of that skin removed before it kills you. Good luck with that!

Honestly, American ignorance of the scientific method is shocking.

First of all, Peter, your spelling of the word "dummies" seems to suggest your own stupidity. Second of all, it's not the sun itself that causes skin cancer, it's prolonged exposure to it. Normal, everyday amounts sunlight will not give you cancer, and is actually good for you (due to a little thing called vitamin D), but as with anything else, too much of it is harmful. With tanning beds, you're by definition getting too much sunlight, and that's what causes cancer.

Smoking one cigarette or even a few here and there will not give you cancer. Smoking a pack a day for 40 years probably will. It's the excess that's bad for you, not the thing itself.

Wow, Peter... 'Talk about blaming the messenger. Yes, it is always "something". It is called life! Do you really think this study is summarily dismissable? Take it easy there buddy! With your line of thinking, since we are carbon based life forms, we need not fear any carbon compounds because hey!, it's what we're "made of", right?!?!? WRONG! MANY carbon compound are extremely hamful to our health. The answer to your rhetoric is simple moderation. Should I assume you would rather not know? I like to get the facts! Even when they are not what I want to hear. ALL the things you mentioned AND water are "bad for your health" when in excess! WAK UP CALL FOR PETER: This world is often NOT black and white, often NOT all or nothing, and often NOT with us or "agin" us! I hope you don't vote, but I fear you do...

Peter, you are clearly angry at that bad, bad sun too. Too much sun gives you skin cancer. I know, I spent a lot of time in the sun as a kid, and on beaches as a young adult. Now I get skin cancer. I have it treated. I wear sunscreen. I limit my exposure. I accept that We evolved (or of you believe in the God waved his hand theory that too) with an average life expectancy of 40-60 years. And those of us in cloudy countries developed fair skin (for more vitamin D), and those in sunny places developed more melanin for protection against higher levels of UV. This worked fine until we all started living longer, and fair skins moved to sunny places. Guess what - skin cancer. Get used to it Peter, and put on some sunscreen. Getting mad at people who give you unpleasant facts won't change things.

Does the phrase "too much of a good thing" come to mind at all? Yes, some degree of sunlight is good for you in that it's necessary for the production of Vitamin D in your skin. There is also the mood altering effect of receiving a proper amount of sunlight during the day. However, just because some finite amount of something is good for you does not mean that a constantly increasing amount of it is that much better for you. Although our bodies have mechanisms to protect us from too much UV light, none of these mechanisms are 100% effective. The same high-energy UV photon that facilitates the production of Vitamin D also smashes into our DNA, increasing the chance of a harmful mutation. Also, nowhere in this article did it advocate avoiding sunlight for the rest of our lives. A little rational thought goes a long way when reacting to scientists' suggestion to avoid purposeful, self-imposed, and artificial exposure to a known mutagen. As for other things that are bad for us in high amounts, consider living by the phrase "everything in moderation." This should ease your consternation with articles like this in the future.

Um, Peter? I think the last word you wrote is correctly spelled "dummies." Not the best word to misspell if you're trying to show that someone else is dumber than you. And science has proven that excess exposure to the sun causes skin cancer; it's not a "suggestion." But the point of this article is not the actual sun anyway; it's tanning beds with artificial light.

All cancers are not the same in terms of human illness and death. In fact, by far the most frequent cancers in humans are skin cancers, yet they rarely are lethal and are almost always easily removed by a physician. Melanomas, which are rare, are the exception but even there survival rates have improved considerably in the past 25 years. Cigarette smoking and asbestos, on the other hand, induce very harmful tumors that are very harmful, with dismal rates of survival. To equate the risks from UV from tanning beds with smoking is tenuous at best.

Does anyone really think the sunworshippers will pay attention to this? It was only after I was diagnosed with a sqamous cell carcinoms in my ear that would have killed me if it had spread into my inner ear that I religiously used sunblocks, hats and good judgement about how much sun exposure was appropriate. They, the sunworshippers, still text and cell talk while driving, roll through stopsigns and smoke cigarettes. Good luck to them. jr

Dear Peter,

Please use a tanning bed as often as you can and spend as much time in the sun without sunscreen as you can. Oh, and cancel your health insurance. Stand up for your beliefs, dude!

I had Melanoma at the age of 40.....Being a California kid the sun seemed benign as my friends were all surfers.....In an ocean that was fairly safe and unpolluted..At that time people also smoked cigs ....It was the sixties.....For anyone not to believe information that is clearly relevant? Well........I cannot help that........Climate has changed...The sun is getting more dangerous and the front page now says that the beaches in LA are less than appealing filled with bacteria...If someone chooses to be ignorant based on information? There choice......I lived to tell the story and I look great...Why? I never get sun.......Yea...I walk or run at five pm or the early morning...Let me say this.......Not a joke and there is no chemo for Melanoma...They just pronounce you dead......Being ill informed is your choice PETER!...You sound like a shocking idiot...

I found the article generally pointless, b/c of the inclusion of incomplete statistics. This is common flaw in journalism today though.

For ex., "skin cancer increases 75% when people start using tanning beds before age 30." To really understand the significance of that stat, one would have to know: what is the starting % of getting skin cancer [is it .0005]; plus, what happens when skin cancer arises and is it treatment or in how many cases is it treatable?

Tanning beds may be a death trap, but this article does little to persuade people through a 'scientific' approach that it is.

All you people who jumped on Peter, I wished you utilized the same standard with the initial article. I wish people did this with all things they read, and maybe we would get better articles by the press.

So far....You never want to walk in my shoes.....However...Im a survivor and here for a reason..........................I do not smoke..I do not drink..............And I clearly read...........Am I over reactionary? Nah......................I raised two gorgeous young men............I will forward this article to both..........Life is really about processing information....

Stupid Peter!! Go burn your skin off then!

And by the way? Melanomas are on the rise......................Everyone should have body checks every year..............With so many people dying at early ages? Dont ya think you should take things seriously? Or do you have a death wish? Interesting....................

And by the way? Melanomas are on the rise......................Everyone should have body checks every year..............With so many people dying at early ages? Dont ya think you should take things seriously? Or do you have a death wish? Interesting....................

This is it. The final attack of the global warming lefties. Where are you Rush? Please find a couple of true-believer doctors ASAP so we all can state this is just a conspiracy of the mainstream science, mainstream media, mainstream whatever. No, even if you show me a birth certificate, or, better yet, a live video of a birth in Hawaii, I won't believe. Because I'm a true believer. Unless, obviously, the guy happens to be blond like Schwarzzenegger.

Tanning beds should be TAXED like cigarettes and alcohol. Being a drinker and a smoker i get taxed for it. So if these tanning beds cause cancer and illness they should be taxed also.

Ouch, this is gonna suck for the tanning industry. And they're always so bright and cheery and tan.

Does anyone think that "Peter" might be a performance artist playing a big elaborate joke to incite a meaningful discourse between passionate, well-informed people? Nah, me neither.

Science "changes" and those who argue against the conclusions use this point as an example (chocolate is good for you with antioxidants where as before it only made you "fat"). However, anything done past moderation is usually corrected by nature. Therefore, take the information to heart that continually changing the color of your skin for purposes of vanity is probably not in the best interest of your health. Something should intuitively tell you that spending days on end in a tanning salon is not healthy for you. Unfortunately, we often take the quick fix for said vanity or pleasure at the expense of our health. Take children's cereals for example. Sugar and milk. Quick fix. Long term damage. And we Americans grow up and continue these habits in other forms, i.e. tanning beds.

With all of today's debates surrounding UV Radiation Exposure it amazes me how the true issue is always skirted by the ITA and its member base, the "professionals" of indoor tanning.

First, my background and ability to speak as an authority on the subject; I spent three years of my life as part of the indoor tanning industry. In my time there I traveled extensively training and certifying salon owners and workers for an FDA mandated certification known as International Smart Tan. Here are the facts:

Of the thousands of people I trained over my course of time the majority of them were young females, mostly late teens and early twenties. These young ladies had no desire to spend 8 hours with yours truly and truly absorb the message at hand:

YOU control a persons exposure time.

Here is the formula:

Intensity x Duration = Total Exposure.

Meaning, I take you to a beach in Long Island, NY in the middle of the hottest month of the year, August. Because of this beaches' particular global location, where it resides in relevance to the equator, its position to the sun in the summer solstice, a few hours on this beach would be equivalent to laying for a 20 minute session in a 32 bulb, 100watts per bulb sunbed.

Now, on the same month, same day, I take you to a beach in Bermuda. Now that you are right on the equator and considering this beaches' particular global location, where it resides in relevance to the equator, its position to the sun in the summer solstice, a few hours on this beach would be equivalent to laying for an 8 minute session in a 52 bulb, 160watts per bulb sunbed.

How do we know this?

Makers and manufacturers of sunbed lamps use something called a spectrometer to measure the radiation levels of UVB and UVA in order to match that which the sun sends to earth. By measuring this they can effectively manipulate and ultimately create a sunbed lamp that mimicks certain global positions.

What 19 year old girl really even comes close to understanding this science? the ones that do are not the ones working in the tanning salon, they are at places like MIT getting an education for higher aspirations in life.

So this understanding is left to be interpreted for the uneducated consumer by the young people behind the desk administering the UV exposure.

Now I ask you this:

Knowing the above sunbed to beach example, how often and for how long would allow yourself of your child to spend on that Long Island NY or Bermuda beach?

Not too long before you got thoughts of burning and skin cancer.

If this is the case why do indoor tanning and sunbed salons encourage unlimited monthly UV exposure packages to their clientele?

I would say its profit driven.

If you owned a tanning salon would you REALLY encourage your clients to only come 20x a year at $15 a session? That would be $300 in revenue for you per client and if you wanted a $300,000 revenue stream, the goal for most salons and thats conservative, you would need 1,000 steady clients.

With the utter saturation of indoor salons in the USA, approx. 28,000 with an additional 50,000 gyms and nail/hair salons offering a sunbed or two, thats 1,560 indoor tanning salons per state.

The reality is that mot salons have a steady client base of avid tanners of about 250 people. Using my math above that translates to $75,000 in revenue. It costs the average salon with 6 to 8 units about $6,000 per month to operate. They would have no profit. So instead they encourage the tanners to keep buying monthly packages and visit the sunbed more like 100 times per year and at $15 a pop 250 steady tanners you now have your $300,000 in revenue and your making a hell of a profit.

The bottom line is business and not true health concern for the general public. The ITA and Euro associations will continue to accuse the medical world of using "junk science" instead of truly acknowledging the fact that the sunbed operator is in it for the profit. If a few people have to die along the way so be it. That sure sounds like the tobacco mindset to me.

So much for that business model...

 


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