One in seven people goes back to a tanning bed after being diagnosed
with skin cancer, according to a new research letter. Indoor tanning is known
to increase a person's risk for cancer."The situation may be analogous to
that of lung cancer patients who continue to smoke after diagnosis," said
lead author Brenda Cartmel, a cancer prevention researcher at the Yale School
of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut.
"Just as tobacco is known to be addictive, our research
suggests that some patients may become dependent on tanning, with new
intervention approaches needed to change these behaviours," she told
Reuters Health. Most of the 20 million people who use tanning beds in the US each
year are young white women.
The beds emit up to
15 times the ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation of the sun. That type of radiation
damages deep layers of skin. The new study included people who had been diagnosed
with basal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing skin cancer which can be removed, but
increases the risk for subsequent skin cancers before age 40.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer in
the US, and occurs most often among men over the age of 50. But other studies
have found an increased number of those cancers among young women in the last
30 years, which inspired the current investigation, Cartmel said. She and her
co-authors surveyed white patients in Connecticut who had participated in a
study of basal cell carcinoma one to four years earlier.
The researchers included results from the 178 people who had
tanned indoors before being diagnosed. Of them, 26 about 15% said they had tanned indoors again
at least once over the past year, with some visiting the booth up to 20 times,
according to findings published in JAMA Dermatology. Those people reported
tanning more often before their diagnosis than the rest of the group.
More than half of the still-tanners reported symptoms of
dependence, such as feeling guilty about tanning or needing to tan first thing
in the morning, compared to 36%of those who had quit tanning."This is not
surprising at all," said Dr Steven Feldman, a dermatologist at Wake Forest
Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
There's a lot of evidence that UV light exposure can be
addictive, he told Reuters Health."If you take skin cells in culture and
expose them to UV light, they make endorphins, those feel-good molecules,"
he said. Like nicotine, Feldman said, tanning has social pressures at work but
can also be physically addictive. But unlike cigarette smoke, which has been
banned in many public places, indoor tanning only harms the individual who gets
in the booth.
There's no such thing as a "secondhand tan". Banning
or taxing tanning booths would reduce basal cell carcinomas, but whether the
government should take that step is up for debate, said Feldman, who was not
involved in the new study. For his older patients who are diagnosed with skin
cancer, he recommends wearing a hat and gives them catalogues of sun-protective
With young people, it may be a good idea to remind them not
to tan indoors, he said."For the typical patient who gets diagnosed,
though, we don't need to tell them," Feldman said.