Artificial Tanning Devices Appear to Increase Risk for Malignant Melanoma

Artificial Tanning Devices Appear to Increase Risk for Malignant Melanoma

Previous studies have indicated that excessive exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sunlight, especially in childhood or adolescence, increases the risk of developing malignant melanoma later in life. However, whether the same risk applies to the ultraviolet rays from tanning beds has been controversial. Now, Swedish researchers say that indeed this artificial method of tanning appears to increase the risk for developing this serious form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is a type of cancer that begins in the skin and can then spread to other parts of the body. The incidence of this type of cancer has been steadily increasing around the world in terms of occurrence in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun, but not in non-exposed areas. When detected early, most melanomas can be cured with surgery; however, advanced melanomas are more difficult to treat. As the melanoma grows and increases in thickness, or depth into the skin, the risk of dying from the disease also increases. For this reason, researchers continue to work toward determining what factors may contribute to the development of melanoma so that better strategies for prevention, early detection, and treatment can be designed and implemented. A person who has 1 or more characteristics or exposures, or

risk factors, for a type of cancer has a higher chance to develop that type of cancer than a person who does not have these risk factors. Risk factors can be determined by studying the differences between persons who have and persons who do not have a type of cancer.

Several risk factors have been suggested in association with melanoma, including having certain types of moles (or

nevi) on the skin; having fair skin, freckles, and light hair; having a parent, sibling, or child who has had melanoma; and being older than 50 years of age. One of the most important risk factors for developing melanoma is excessive exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, especially when it results in sunburn. Recently, there has also been some controversy about whether the ultraviolet rays of artificial tanning beds might also put users at an increased risk for melanoma; however, this has been difficult to prove because many persons who use artificial tanning beds also have a high exposure to the sun. Now, a new study from Sweden appears to confirm that use of these devices increases the risk for developing melanoma.

Researchers in Sweden evaluated 571 patients who were diagnosed with malignant melanoma for the first time, and compared them with 913 healthy individuals. The comparison showed an increased risk for melanoma associated with commercial tanning devices and exposure to ultraviolet rays in the Winter. This risk appeared to be highest in females and in persons with black, dark brown, or light brown hair, and occurred most often on the arms and legs.

These findings suggest that exposure to the ultraviolet rays of artificial tanning devices may increase the risk of developing malignant melanoma. Important to note is that these calculations may underestimate the incidence of melanoma, as this form of tanning began only in the 1980s and melanoma may take a longer period to develop. Measures to reduce the risk for melanoma then would include avoiding excess exposure to the ultraviolet rays of both sunlight and artificial tanning devices, and seeing a doctor regularly for examination of the skin for moles that may be cancerous or develop into cancer. (British Journal of Cancer, Vol 82, No 9, pp 1593-1599, 2000)

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