Indoor Tanning Linked to Skin Cancer in Young People

People who used indoor tanning beds are at a significantly higher risk of developing basal cell carcinoma (BCC) before the age of 40 than people who never used indoor tanning beds, a new study by Yale Cancer Center researchers has found. BCC is an extremely common type of skin cancer, more frequent than all other cancers combined. Led by researchers from the Yale School of Public Health, the research team determined that young people who had tanned indoors had a 69 percent increased risk of early-onset BCC. The association was strongest among women and the risk increased with years of indoor tanning use. Recent data indicate that BCC incidence is on the rise, especially in young women.  Approximately a quarter of the overall cases of early-onset BCC—including 43 percent of cases in women—could be prevented if individuals never used indoor tanning beds, the research found.

“Indoor tanning was strikingly common in our study of young skin cancer patients, especially in the women, which may partially explain why 70 percent of early-onset BCCs occur in females,” said Susan T. Mayne, professor at the School of Public Health and the senior author of the study, which is published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. “We were also surprised to find that one-third of our study participants with BCC had already had at least one additional BCC before age 40, which is very alarming as skin cancers increase in frequency with age.” These results expand upon recent findings also linking indoor tanning to melanoma, a less common but more lethal form of skin cancer that is also increasing in young women.

“Importantly, indoor tanning is a behavior that individuals can change. In conjunction with the findings on melanoma, our results for BCC indicate that reducing indoor tanning could translate to a meaningful reduction in the incidence of these two types of skin cancer,” said Leah M. Ferrucci, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Public Health. In the United States alone, an estimated 30 million people use indoor tanning beds each year, with young women being the most likely to engage in the behavior. Ferrucci and co-authors concluded that both policy-based restrictions (such as legislation recently passed in California that bans use by minors), as well as behavioral interventions are needed to reduce indoor tanning. The research team interviewed more than 750 people under the age of 40 with BCC and without. For the subjects who used indoor tanning beds, the researchers evaluated the frequency, duration, types of tanning devices used, the number of burns suffered from tanning and the age at which the person started tanning. Other members of the research team were Brenda Cartmel, Annette M. Molinaro, David J. Leffell and Allen E. Bale, from the Yale Schools of Public Health and Medicine and Yale Cancer Center.

This article was submitted by Denise Meyer on June 22, 2012.

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Allen Everett Bale

Professor of Genetics

Brenda Cartmel

Senior Research Scientist in and Lecturer in Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases)

Leah McArthur Ferrucci

Research Scientist

David J Leffell

David P. Smith Professor of Dermatology and Professor of Surgery (Otolaryngology and Plastic)