Early Tanning Bed Use Raises Risk for Melanoma

Summary and Comment |
August 10, 2012

Early Tanning Bed Use Raises Risk for Melanoma

  1. Craig A. Elmets, MD

More than 5% of melanomas are caused by tanning bed use.

  1. Craig A. Elmets, MD

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a unit of the World Health Organization, concluded in 2009 that sun beds, like radiation and cigarette smoke, are carcinogenic to humans. Since the meta-analysis that led to this conclusion, another eight epidemiologic studies have been performed. These investigators conducted a larger meta-analysis to explore this relationship in greater detail. They included 27 case-control, cohort, and cross-sectional studies involving 11,428 patients, performed in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia between 1981 and 2012.

They found a statistically significant 20% increase in melanoma risk among ever users of tanning beds and a 42% increase among heavy users. Tanning bed use before age 35 increased melanoma risk by 87% compared with never use — a 12% increase even from the elevated risk reported in 2009. The risk for developing melanoma appears to increase with time. The authors estimate that 5.4% of melanomas and nearly 800 melanoma deaths annually in Europe can be attributed to artificial tanning.


This study provides new information about the relationship between tanning bed use and melanoma, and the numbers are rising rather than leveling off. A worrisome finding of this study is that the risk for developing melanoma increases over time from the first tanning bed exposure, which suggests that we will see greater numbers and percentages of past and present sun bed users developing melanoma. We must vigilantly monitor current and past tanning bed users for melanoma as well as continue our ongoing efforts to counsel patients and lobby for restrictions on tanning bed use.


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