A new study suggests that young people who are exposed to ultraviolet radiation from lamps used for indoor tanning have a greater risk for developing basal cell carcinomas at a young age. The researchers say as teens and young adults are increasingly seeking indoor tanning, there is an important need to draw their attention to the risk they are taking.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, they report how the incidence of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) in the US and elsewhere has been rising, and younger people are increasingly affected.

They note how recent studies have also raised concerns that indoor tanning may be contributing to the early development of BCC, and younger people may be especially vulnerable to the risk of cancer that is linked to indoor tanning.

Lead author Professor Margaret Karagas, Director of the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center at Dartmouth, NH, says their study highlights the need to help young people understand the risks they are taking when they use indoor tanning.

She was particularly concerned to learn that a recent survey in New Hampshire, where she and her colleagues conducted their study, showed, “74% of high schools have at least one tanning salon within 2 miles, and an additional 22% have easy access to a tanning salon.”

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The researchers found that, compared to controls, a higher proportion of basal cell carcinoma patients reported using indoor tanning.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or basal cell skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US. The cancer starts in the top layer of the skin and usually results from regular exposure to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation (UV). Although not life-threatening like melanoma, the American Association for Cancer Research says BCC causes considerable morbidity and places a burden on health systems.

The researchers note that UV from indoor tanning devices can be 10 to 15 times stronger than UV from midday sun.

For the study, the team used data from the New Hampshire Skin Cancer Study, covering 657 patients newly diagnosed with BCC and 452 controls. The maximum age of participants was 50 years.

The participant data included use of indoor tanning and whether the devices used were sunlamps, tanning beds or booths. There was also information on skin sensitivity to the sun, and the proportion of time spent outdoors during childhood.

When they analyzed the data the researchers found compared to controls, a higher proportion of BCC patients reported using indoor tanning and this was the case for all types of indoor tanning devices.

About 40% of the BBCs were on the torso, and places other than the head or neck. In those cases, the link to indoor tanning was stronger.

They also found that BCC patients had skin that was more likely to burn than tan in the first hour of summer sun exposure compared to controls.

The researchers conclude their findings suggest “early exposure to indoor tanning increases the risk of early development of BCC, and that they also “underscore the importance of counseling adolescents and young adults about the risks of indoor tanning and for discouraging parents from consenting minors to this practice.”

In January 2014, Medical News Today learned of a study that showed an alarming rise in popularity of indoor tanning among younger people in the US, Europe and Australia. The researchers estimated that 450,000 non-melanoma skin cancer cases and 10,000 melanoma cases arising each year in those regions are attributable to indoor tanning.

The University of California-San Francisco researchers also noted that as tanning is growing in popularity, and smoking rates are falling in Western countries, it is feasible that 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.