Dartmouth Study Links Indoor Tanning to Skin Cancer

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(Host) In the middle of a long Vermont winter, a tanning lamp can provide a little color. The use of tanning beds is believed to be rising.

But as VPR’s Steve Zind reports, a new study at Dartmouth College indicates that the indoor tan may present health risks.

(Zind) Teresa Chun is co-owner of Tony’s Gym in Randolph. Chun says this is peak season for the gym’s tanning bed. She says customers use the bed to get a “starter tan” to avoid sunburn when they go south on vacation. For others, the ultraviolet light and warmth of the tanning bed represent a kind of virtual vacation.

(Chun) “They pretend they’re in the Bahamas or out on a beach down south.”

(Zind) The tanning bed at Tony’s is lined with long ultraviolet tubes that look like florescent lights. The person using the bed lies down and a curved lid is lowered over him.

Chun says club employees supervise the use of the tanning bed. There’s also a warning label right on machine:

(Chun) “Repeated exposure may cause premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. (sound of machine turning on) You should be wearing eye glasses.”

(Zind) Despite the warning Chun says the tanning bed is popular with her customers. But now, there’s new information to back up the warning about skin cancer. A study conducted by Dartmouth Medical School researchers has found a link between skin cancer and tanning lamp use. Dr. Margaret Karagas, a Dartmouth epidemiologist, coauthored the study:

(Karagas) “What we found was that tanning lamp use was associated with more than a doubling of risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin and a 50% higher risk of basal cell carcinomas.”

(Zind) Karagas says these are the most common forms of cancer. Unlike more serious melanomas, they are generally not fatal. Karagas is concerned about the increased use of tanning lamps, especially among women and young people:

(Karagas) “We found that 40% of women under the age of fifty said that they had used a tanning lamp. And the surveys are showing that it’s mostly teenagers and young adults and women who tend to use them.”

(Zind) Karagas says there’s been a dramatic increase in skin cancers especially among women. She says a link between skin cancer and the ultraviolet light from tanning lamps makes sense since we know UV radiation from sunlight is a major contributor to skin cancer. But this is the first extensive study to indicate a connection. Karagas’s study say more attention needs to be paid to the use of tanning lamps, especially by young people.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Randolph.

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