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Teen Tanning Habits Raise Skin Cancer Risks

Tanning, Skin Cancer Myths Debunked by Dermatologists

WebMD Health News

May 3, 2004 (New York) -- Being bronzed like Britney or tan in time for prom may be putting teenagers at risk for skin cancer.

New research shows a growing number of teenagers are tanning outdoors or using indoor tanning salons despite the known skin cancer risks associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources.

Researchers say those tanning habits are especially dangerous among teens because UV exposure during youth is closely associated with skin cancer risk.

"UV exposure before the age of 20 is strongly correlated with the most common skin cancer, which is basal cell carcinoma with almost a million cases a year," says James Spencer, MD, vice chairman of the department of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "UV exposure before the age of 20 is also associated with the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma."

Although the incidence of most types of cancer is declining, researchers say skin cancer rates in the U.S. are one the rise and now exceed all other cancers combined.

Spencer says that's extraordinary because skin cancer isn't confusing at all.

"We know what causes it. It's excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, whether it be from the sun or artificial sources, such as indoor tanning," says Spencer.

Spencer announced a new public education campaign to educate teens about the dangers of tanning at a news conference today in New York sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Experts at the conference also addressed some common misconceptions about sunscreen, sun exposure and vitamin D absorption, and melanoma risks among blacks.

Teens and Tanning

A recent study showed that nearly 37% of teenage girls and 11% of boys have used an indoor tanning booth at least once in their life, and 28% and 7% of girls and boys, respectively, have used them three or more times.

The study also showed that the popularity of tanning booths also increased with age in girls. Eleven percent of 13- to 14-year-olds reported using indoor tanning booths more than three times, but that number grew to 47% among 18- to 19-year-olds.

The ADD recently issued a new position statement on indoor tanning, encouraging states to ban the use of tanning equipment for nonmedical purposes. The organization also advocates enacting legislation to bar minors from using tanning devices and placing a Surgeon General's warning stating that UV radiation is a known carcinogen on all tanning devices.

Spencer says recent attempts to market tanning beds as safer than sun are "nonsense."

He says early tanning beds were equipped with light bulbs that emitted less of the UVB rays associated with sunburns and more UVA rays than natural sunlight. But newer bulbs contain the same amount of burning UVB rays and up to 15 times higher concentrations of aging UVA rays.

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