Tanning Beds Get Highest Carcinogen Rating

Melanoma risk rises 75 percent when device use begins before age 30, international panel says

Topics: Cancer: Skin Food & Drug Administration Safety & Public Health

TUESDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- The International Agency for Research on Cancer on Tuesday moved tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category -- "carcinogenic to humans," according to a new report.

Previously, the agency had classified sunlamps and tanning beds as "probably" carcinogenic, so the move puts the devices a notch higher in terms of risk. It also echoes calls by some U.S. experts to place tougher warnings and restrictions on tanning bed use.

"The use of tanning beds can be deleterious to your health and we hope to encourage governments to formulate restrictions and regulations for the use of tanning beds," said report coauthor Beatrice Secretan, from the Cancer Monograph Working Group at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France. The Agency is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The first priority of the WHO is to restrict the use of tanning beds by those under 18, Secretan said. "If controls are put in place it will reduce the risks of the users or deter people from using them," she said.

One U.S. expert agreed. "This new report confirms and extends the prior recommendation of the American Cancer Society that the use of tanning beds is dangerous to your health, and should be avoided," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

The report is published in the August issue of The Lancet Oncology.

In June, scientists from nine countries met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer to pore over data associating tanning beds with the risk of skin cancer.

Their review concluded that the risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent when use of tanning beds and sunlamps begins before 30 years of age. In addition, several studies provided evidence of a link between the use of UV-emitting tanning devices and melanoma of the eye.

The genetic mutation caused by UV radiation has previously been attributed to UVB radiation alone. However, the same mutation was found in the skin of mice exposed to UVA radiation, and that radiation caused the mice to develop tumors, the researchers noted.

These findings caused the agency to reclassify all UV radiation -- including UVA, UVB and UVC -- as carcinogenic to humans. Previously the agency had classified UVA, UVB and UVC radiation as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

"The report firmly establishes ultraviolet radiation as a human carcinogen," the American Cancer Society's Lichtenfeld said.

"Young women in particular are the heaviest users of tanning beds, and are at the greatest risk of causing harm to themselves," he said. "This report also puts to rest the argument that tanning with UVA light is safe."

A representative of the tanning bed industry was less impressed by the ruling, however.

"The fact that the IARC has put tanning bed use in the same category as sunlight is hardly newsworthy," said Dan Humiston, president of the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA). "The UV light from a tanning bed is equivalent to UV light from the sun, which has had a group 1 classification since 1992. Some other items in this category are red wine, beer and salted fish. The ITA has always emphasized the importance of moderation when it comes to UV light from either the sun or a tanning bed."

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) each regulate tanning beds and sunlamps. The FDA regulates labeling of the devices and the FTC regulates advertising claims about the devices.

The FDA currently requires tanning salons to direct all customers to wear protective eye goggles and advises consumers to limit their exposure to tanning devices, and avoid them if you have certain medical conditions such as lupus or diabetes or are susceptible to cold sores.

In addition, the FDA requires labels on these devices that warn of skin aging, skin cancer and eye injury. However, in 2007 the FDA began a review of these warnings and is considering strengthening its warnings about the risk of skin cancer and eye damage, according to the agency.

Another expert, Dr. Jeffrey C. Salomon, an assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, believes the time has come for the FDA to restrict the use of tanning beds and to issue stronger warnings of their dangers.

"It's hard to raise the level of concern regarding the use of tanning beds any higher with what is being reported as a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma when tanning beds are used before the age of 30," Salomon reasoned. "Tanning beds now reside in the highest category of potential cancer risk, carcinogenic to humans. Legislation to restrict tanning bed use by minors and a requirement for a black box warning to consumers is now necessary," he said.

More information

There's more on skin cancer risk at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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