THE QUESTION Do people who tan their skin indoors face a greater chance of developing non-melanoma skin cancer than those who do not?
THIS STUDY analyzed data from 12 studies, involving 80,661 people, including 9,328 who had non-melanoma (either basal cell or squamous cell) skin cancer. Those who had ever tanned indoors — using a sunlamp, tanning bed, tanning booth or other device that emitted ultraviolet rays to produce a cosmetic tan — were 29 percent more likely to have basal cell skin cancer and 67 percent more likely to have squamous cell skin cancer than people who had never used indoor tanning methods. Risks were greater for those first exposed to indoor tanning before age 25; they were 40 percent more likely to have basal cell cancer and twice as likely to have squamous cell. Frequent and multiple users of indoor tanning also tended to have an increased risk for basal cell cancer.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Anyone who tans indoors. In the United States, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and non-melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer, with more than 2 million people treated for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer each year. These skin cancers are described as highly curable, but they can spread if not treated, and they sometimes recur. Also, people who have a basal cell cancer are likely to get another elsewhere on their skin.
CAVEATS The study did not determine whether risk varied by the type of tanning method that was used. People’s skin type or sun sensitivity and their outdoor exposure to the sun’s rays may have affected the findings; some studies adjusted the data for one of both of these factors.
FIND THIS STUDY Oct. 2 online issue of BMJ.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.