New research analyzing the prevalence of indoor tanning has revealed the activity is very common in Western countries, particularly among young people. Because the use of tanning beds has been associated with a higher risk of skin cancers, researchers say its popularity is a public health risk.
Indoor tanning exposes the user to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Research has shown that exposure to these UV rays can increase the risk of skin cancers, such as melanoma and squamous cell, and cancers of the eye (ocular melanoma).
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study revealing that the risk of cancer from tanning beds is two times higher than spending the same amount of time in the Mediterranean sun.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of skin cancer from tanning beds is much higher for younger people. Individuals who begin tanning under the age of 35 have a 59% higher risk of melanoma.
To determine just how popular indoor tanning is, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, led by Mackenzie R. Wehner, analyzed 88 studies from 16 countries that reported the prevalence of tanning bed use. The studies included a total of 406,696 participants.
The investigators assessed indoor tanning popularity by different age groups, before calculating the risk of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) in the US, Europe and Australia.
Findings are 'concerning'
The study findings, published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, revealed that 35% of adults had been exposed to indoor tanning, and 14% had used a tanning bed in the past year.
University students had the highest exposure to indoor tanning, with 55% using tanning beds and 43% using them in the past year.
Around 19% of adolescents had been exposed to indoor tanning, while 18% had used tanning beds in the past year.
Overall, indoor tanning was more popular for women than men.
The researchers calculate that these levels of exposure to indoor tanning could lead to more than 450,000 NMSC cases and 10,000 melanoma cases every year.
The study authors say their findings are a cause for concern, particularly for younger individuals. They write:
"Because the risk of melanoma and NMSC is highest in those exposed to indoor tanning in early life, our finding that the majority of university students and approximately 1 in 5 adolescents have been exposed is concerning.
It is possible that skin cancer rates in this highly susceptible group will be even higher in the coming decades as this younger generation ages."
Tanning-related skin cancer cases 'higher' than smoking-related lung cancer cases
The study authors say their estimate of 450,000 skin cancer cases each year attributable to indoor tanning is "alarming."
They even point out that this number of skin cancer cases linked to the use of tanning beds in the US, Europe and Australia is higher than the number of lung cancer cases linked to smoking in the same regions.
"Clearly, the mortality associated with lung cancer is far greater than that for skin cancer, and smoking causes many other health risks," they note.
"However, it is striking that although the population proportional attributable risks of these two behaviors are quite different - approximately 3-22% for skin cancer compared with approximately 90% for lung cancer - the extremely high incidence of skin cancer means that there are more skin cancer cases attributable to indoor tanning than lung cancer cases attributable to smoking."
The investigators add that indoor tanning is growing in popularity, whereas smoking rates are falling in Western countries. Therefore, they say it is possible the number of skin cancer cases as a result of indoor tanning will exceed the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking in years to come.
Concluding their study, the investigators say further research is needed into new policy and prevention strategies that can significantly reduce the risks of skin cancer.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a proposal from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reclassify indoor tanning products so that their labeling includes a recommendation against young people using them.