December 5, 2012

Tanning beds and cancer: A business 'more and more tainted'

Doctors say mounting evidence of the link to melanoma should prompt tougher warnings.

By JASON GALE Bloomberg News

MELBOURNE, Australia - Teenage girls trading the risk of deadly melanoma for a year-round tan have helped spur a global backlash against the tanning bed industry.

click image to enlarge

International cancer experts have moved tanning beds into the top cancer risk category, but the Food and Drug Administration still lists them as Class I – a category that includes elastic bandages.

The Associated Press

Health officials from Brasilia to Sydney are banning tanning salons amid evidence that they cause malignant lesions. Use of tanning beds causes all three types of skin cancer, especially for people younger than 25, according to a study published in October from the University of California, San Francisco.

Doctors say the research, published in the British Medical Journal, should prompt tougher warnings on tanning machines that emit ultraviolet radiation.

Tanning salons support $5 billion in U.S. economic activity each year, according to the Food and Drug Administration. In May, Vermont followed California, banning teens under 18 from indoor tanning. In Europe, laws prohibiting teens from tanning beds have been enacted in 22 countries, 18 of them since 2009. Age limits in Australia may have forced the closing of a third of tanning bed operators there.

"We're seeing an uptick in melanoma cases and deaths among young women," said J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer with the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society. "Are we going to look back 15 to 20 years from now and wish we'd been more forceful about moving this process forward?"

The FDA has been reviewing its classification of tanning beds since 2010. The machines are subject to general controls such as establishment registration requirements and quality system regulation, spokeswoman Michelle Bolek said.

"This is an important public health issue and we're committed to providing consumers with an update soon on the agency's next steps on tanning bed regulation," she said.

The FDA currently ranks tanning machines as Class I devices -- as safe to use, in other words, as elastic bandages. Few other health groups share that position. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2009 added ultraviolet radiation from tanning machines to a danger category of carcinogens that includes radon and plutonium.

Indoor tanning before age 35 increases the risk for melanoma by 75 percent, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report in May.

Brazil banned cosmetic tanning three years ago. Two Australian states have passed legislation to ban salons by 2015 and a third plans to introduce a similar bill within months.

Royal Philips Electronics, Europe's largest maker of medical equipment behind Siemens, was a major supplier of products for UV tanning until recently. The Amsterdam-based company discontinued its product portfolio between 2009 and 2010, said Jeannet Harpe, a spokeswoman for Philips Lighting.

"The business is becoming more and more tainted as the evidence becomes clearer," said Craig Sinclair, head of the WHO's Collaborative Centre for UV Radiation in Melbourne.

Every day in the United States, tanning beds are used by more than 1 million people, mostly white women ages 16 to 29, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Of the 28 million Americans who go to a tanning salon at least once a year, 2.3 million are teens.

More than 3.5 million skin cancers in 2 million people are diagnosed annually in the United States, according to the academy, a doctors' group in Schaumburg, Ill. This year, 81,240 melanoma cases will be diagnosed and 12,190 people will probably succumb to the malignancy, the American Cancer Society estimates. Women have a 1 in 377 chance of melanoma by age 39. For men, it's 1 in 677.

Ninety percent of skin cancers are associated with radiation exposure mainly from the sun, according to the International Skin Cancer Foundation in New York. The use of tanning beds compounds the impact of sun exposure because the radiation they emit is stronger than the long-wave UVA and shortwave UVB rays that reach the earth naturally.

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