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Chiropractic Research Review

Tanning Beds Associated with Skin Cancer

Artificial tanning devices, such as tanning beds and sunlamps, are being increasingly used for nonmedical reasons, especially in the younger population. Solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation and sunburns are associated with tanning devices, which can cause skin cancer.

Data on the link between tanning devices and two of the three forms of skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma - are minimal.

New Hampshire residents were interviewed about factors related to sun exposure including sun sensitivity; sunbathing; tanning devices used; and time spent outdoors. Participants were divided into three groups based on presence of skin cancer: 603 basal cell carcinoma patients, 293 squamous cell carcinoma patients, and 540 healthy controls.

Results: Overall use of any tanning device was associated with an increased risk for squamous cell carcinoma of 2.5 times; tanning-device use was linked to an increased risk for basal cell carcinoma of 1.5 times. Adjusting for sunburn history and sunbathing or sun exposure did not change the results. The odds for skin cancer increased steadily for each decade younger that a subject first used one of these devices. Tanning-device users were most likely female and 50 years old or younger.

According to the authors, an increase in skin cancer incidence in recent years may be associated with the apparent increase in tanning devices. This is particularly concerning, as recent studies have reported that up to 51% of high school-aged girls use commercial tanning beds at least four times annually.

It is important to recognize the difference between tanning devices having an association with skin cancer and tanning devices causing skin cancer. This study did not study cause-and-effect relations, such as would be done in a randomized trial. Readers are urged to use caution when interpreting the results of papers that report on associations.

Karagas MR, Stannard VA, Mott LA, et al. Use of tanning devices and risk of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002:94(3), pp. 224-226.

Chiropractic Research Review

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