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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Tanning Salons Boost Skin Cancer Risk

Study Shows Monthly Use Raises Melanoma Risk by 55%
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The risk from melanoma from sun exposure was four times greater in red-haired women, who are typically fair-skinned compared with women with dark brown or black hair. Blondes had twice the risk compared with women with brown or black hair.

These new findings are important, because it's hard to study what specific factors increases the risks of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Because mice don't get these forms, researchers must rely on these types of population studies that track lifestyle habits and later disease rates, says James Spencer, MD, spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology and vice chairman of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He was not involved in this study.

"In a way, it's confirming the obvious," he tells WebMD. "We know that ultraviolet light from the sun causes skin cancer, and we presumed that ultraviolet light from tanning salons also causes skin cancer, although there's no direct experimental way to show that."

But he says he's surprised by the risk noted in women who artificially tanned.

"We knew artificial tanning was bad, but it's worse than we thought. This is a large, powerful study and I think what it does is confirm what we suspected."

But Indoor Tanning Association spokesman Joseph Levy says the new findings don't apply to Americans.

"We don't know anything specifically about how or where this tanning equipment was used," he tells WebMD. "Indoor tanning in Scandinavia is not regulated like it is here. They don't have exposure schedules or the same type of equipment. You're talking about a fair-skinned population that has a different mentality -- they are sun worshippers."

So does he think that tanning beds are safe?

"Being safe implies that you can do something recklessly and not think about what you are doing to maximize benefits and minimize risks," says Levy. "We want people to think about what they're doing when tanning, as opposed to just saying 'safe.'"

Last month, the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine reported that in a survey of 7,000 teenagers, one in three girls and 11% of boys say they had used an indoor tanning bed at least once in their life.

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