Adults still unaware of skin cancer risk from indoor tanning

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Many men and women remain unaware of the risk of skin cancer from using tanning beds, shown in a new analysis. Kelvin Choi, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, and colleagues who conducted the study say only a small number of adults report avoiding tanning beds as a way to prevent skin cancer.

The analysis from 2005, taken from the Health Information National Trends study, found 18.1% of women and 6.3% of men reported tanning indoors in the previous year that was also found to be most common among 18 to 24 year olds.

The study that included 2869 participants analyzed skin cancer knowledge in a subset of 821 adults who were randomly selected for telephone interviews.

Most of the respondents said applying sunscreen, wearing a hat and avoiding the sun were important, but only 13.3 percent of women and 4.2 percent of men suggested avoiding tanning beds to prevent skin cancer.

Men and women who used spray tanning products also reported indoor tanning in the previous year. "It is concerning that only a small proportion of adults reported avoidance of indoor tanning bed use to prevent skin cancer," the authors write.


Men were more likely than women to use spray tanning products, and women were three times more likely than men to use tanning beds.

Other findings from the study showed women with higher incomes, between $50,000 and $75,000 annually with high school education were less likely to engage in indoor tanning than those without a high school education and yearly income less than $35,000. Rural men were less likely to go to a tanning salon than men living in metropolitan areas.

The researchers say, "Perhaps people are confused by the messages from the indoor tanning industry on possible benefits of indoor tanning, e.g. getting vitamin D from moderate exposure to artificial UV radiation. This possibility is also suggested by the fact that women and men who suggested sunscreen use as a method to reduce their skin cancer risk were more likely to have tanned indoors."

They note the tanning industry is growing rapidly, generates more than $5 billion annually in revenues and attracts mostly women, despite the known risks and warnings of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers that is the most prevalent form of the disease in the United States.

In 2009, there were one million new cases of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers diagnosed, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society. The analysis found most adults failed to list avoiding tanning beds as a way to prevent skin cancer, suggesting the need for patient education from clinicians.

Arch Dermatol. 2010;146[12]:1356-1361