NO… there is no link between indoor tanning and melanoma

KTHV-TV (Little Rock) reports:

… While not the most common, melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer and the rates of melanoma have been increasing for at least the last 30 years.

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults 25-29 years old. The risk is rising faster in women 15-29 years old, possibly due to indoor tanning use.

According to statistics, an American dies of melanoma almost every hour. If recognized and treated early, there is a 98% survival rate, but if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, the survival rate decreases to 16-62%…

The primary evidence for the claimed link between melanoma and indoor tanning comes from a 2006 study from the International Agency for Carcinogenic Research (IARC), which reported a 75% increase in melanoma incidence among sunbed users whose first sunbed use occurred before age 35.

On its face, this result is in the noise zone of epidemiology. According to the National Cancer Institute:

In epidemiologic research, [risks of less than 100 percent] are considered small and usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.

One of the major problems in tanning studies is that researchers don’t know how much ultraviolet radiation (outdoor or indoor) any study subjects actually received.

Past this Achilles heel, a reanalysis of the IARC claim by University of Delaware epidemiologist Mia Papas reported that when limited to professional salons, the statistical association between indoor tanning and melanoma essentially vanished, becoming a statistically insignificant increase of six percent — i.e., a zero association, practically speaking.

If you’re worried about melanoma and the survival rate is 98% for early identification, then your best bet is to visit your dermatologist regularly.

15 thoughts on “NO… there is no link between indoor tanning and melanoma”

  1. Every one of these medical statistical correlation studies I’ve ever read is calculated the wrong way round. If you want to know whether tanning beds cause cancer you don’t ask how many cancer patients used tanning beds, you ask how many tanning bed users get cancer. This little bit of logic seems so obvious to me that I can’t believe any use of statistics gathered the other way around aren’t deliberately propagandist in nature. It’s a lot harder to start a panic big enough to generate political donations by saying a small percentage of cell phone users develope brain cancer than it is to say a large percentage of brain cancer patients used cell phones.

  2. Joseph, excellent points, and yes indeed: I was quite up front about my expertise (as in lack thereof! LOL) in the area of skin cancer. Personally I think getting a decent amount of sun exposure is probably a VERY good thing for people. And I would no more advocate banning patio dining than I would advocate banning smoking in well-ventilated businesses.

    But… simply saying that something IS good, overall, doesn’t speak in any way to the question of whether that “something” can be, at some level, carcinogenic. You wrote, ” So I would think that there must be some safe limit of sun exposure to get those vitamin d levels up to prevent all these other problems without increasing your risk of skin cancer too greatly.” and I’d strongly agree. But the phrase “too greatly” is what counts here. If we’re passing legislation based on “no safe levels of exposure” in order to “protect the workers” then we need to be consistent about it. Exposure to the old smoky environs of 1950s/60s style workplaces produced, according to the EPA’s analysis, roughly one extra lung cancer for every 40,000 worker-years of exposure. In well ventilated bars/restaurants today with high-end air filtration systems added, the likely exposure would be 1/10th to 1/100th of that: i.e. producing one cancer for every 400,000 to 4,000,000 worker-years of exposure.

    In the same way, daytime workers on patios can use sunscreen and stand under awnings while waiting for customer calls. Their increased risk of skin cancer won’t disappear, but it will be decreased to a point where it’s probably irrational to frame legislation around it.

    Alcohol presents the same sort of double-edged sword: it increases cancer risk, but supposedly a glass of wine a day correlates with a decrease in heart disease.

    Re bias on tanning bed studies: if you think there’s a bias there, just IMAGINE the bias in the smoking area where you’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars EVERY YEAR being pumped into “tobacco control” efforts to do everything possible to vilify smoking.

    – MJM

  3. First of all, Thank you for your comments Michael, And no offense intended, but this is what I am talking about … you said: “I’ve never really studied skin cancer in depth and don’t have citations for the above comments. I’m pretty sure I’m correct or close to correct on them, but just want to be clear about my lack of qualifications, OK?” You are pretty sure ? you are correct or close to correct on them ? So this is your opinion based on your knowledge and experiences. That’s the problem with opinions … everyone has one and usually it’s based on article summaries or other peoples opinions. I do the same thing, I think we all do – possibly causing more harm than good. Where is the science ? I mean I believe we need some sun and that there is a safe amount. I beleive the hundreds of studies coming out in the last 10 years linking lack of sunshine, to critically low vitamin d levels , which is being linked to an increase in 105 diseases. So I would think that there must be some safe limit of sun exposure to get those vitamin d levels up to prevent all these other problems without increasing your risk of skin cancer too greatly. Study showing tanning bed users have higher vitamin d levels than non tanners => http://www.uvadvantage.org/portals/0/pdf/Tangpricha%20Tanning%2012-04.pdf Outdoor workers who get much more uvb radaition exposure actually get less melanoma skin cancers => http://www.sunlightinstitute.org/sunlight-avoidance-insanity-causing-severe-vitamin-d-deficiency Millions of women die every year from breast cancer, that number could be lowered by increasing sun exposure to get vitamin d levels up => http://www.lecanadian.com/news/holistic_health_nutrition/2013/05/21/316.html There is so so much stuff about the benefits of vitamin d. I think people need some sun, but of course do not over do it, like anything, like you said water does cause drowning, should we say there is no acceptable level of water intake ? That would be crazy to say even though there are chemicals and pollutants in our water ? So I also think it’s just as crazy to say there is no acceptable safe level UVB exposure. Bottom line for me is – we need to get our vitamin d levels higher to prevent many illnesses. We can’t get enough through our natural diet. And mother nature has a built in mechanism for us to make mega amounts of vitamin d when we get exposed to the sun. So we have done studies to ask people who get skin cancer if they ever used a tanning bed ? Does that mean the tanning bed caused the skin cancer ? What about if they were a smoker ? Aparently smoking can increase your skin cancer risk by 50%, and obesity increase skin cancer risk too. But in the studies, if an obese smoker got skin cancer, and did use tanning beds at some point we say ohh, it was the tanning beds that caused it ? That is not a very good study to me. I wish we just had an honest world where we would do legitimate studies, with no bias, based on strong factual evidence without all the interference and ( leaving out key elements to get the study to reveal what you are trying to prove). We can’t trust our own governments for all the garbage they allow to be sold as food. How about we do another study of all the people who use tanning beds on a regular basis for years and see how all thier disease rates compare to the disease rates of non tanning bed users. That would be interesting to see, Imagine if tanners had an increase risk of skin cancer by 6% but had a corresponding decrease in Breast Colon and prostate cancer of minus 30%. From everything I read, that is what Ib believe would be the case, as well as a mahor reduction of many other diseases. I think that would turn the world upside down … but who cares enough to to that study ? So overall, Michael, do you think we should be getting some sun exposure as well ? Or avoiding it all together ?

  4. Joseph, let me go line by line through part of your post, but also let me start out by saying that I think you’re correct in that the concerns are overstated. My main criticisms in the area are pointed at people who worry about tanning salons and secondhand smoke and rave about “no safe levels” while at the same time feeling no qualms about taking their children out for lunch in a daytime patio setting.

    You say:

    “If there was no sunshine would most of if not all of the planet die off ?”

    Yes, immediately. But that has nothing to do with solar radiation causing skin cancers. Without water we’d all die, but no one can argue that water doesn’t drown people every year.

    “And if man kind has been exposed to this UVA and UVB sun rays for thousands of years. And of it is true there is no safe exposure limit of UVB or UVA. Why would our human race not have all died off of skin cancer thousands of years ago when we had no chemical sunscreens?”

    Two reasons: (1) An agent can CAUSE a disease or cancer in some people at some levels at some ages without necessarily causing it in all people at all levels at all ages. Mild exposures are extremely unlikely to cause skin cancer in younger people. Heavy lifelong exposures are far more likely to cause skin cancer in older people.

    “Why is it that skin cancer has gone up dramatically since the industrial revolution and all the chemicals in our food and personal care products.”

    Has it? Separately from the effect introduced by a population that lives longer? When most of us used to die around age forty very few people lived long enough to die from skin cancer, plus, many who died from metasticized skin cancer never had their deaths blamed on the little brown mole on their nose.

    “And why does the body have a built in natural protection mechanism to prevent sun burn.”

    Because solar radiation is harmful to us. The protection varies from person to person and isn’t always very effective. Albinos have very little, Blacks have a lot more.

    “And why does human skin make thousands of units of vitamin d within minutes of exposure to UVB radiation.”

    Because it’s a lucky adaptation that allowed humans to spread beyond the confines of areas where Vitamin D was an easy part of the diet. (I’m purely guessing on this point, but it sounds like a reasonable guess.)

    “And why does everyone seem to ignore all this information and just blame all the skin cancer on the sun and tanning beds.”

    Because, according to studies that have been done, it seems likely that there’s a strong causal link… similar to what we see with primary smoking and lung cancer. But such links do NOT mean that people should get all crazy about banning smoking or patio dining. Ventilation, sunscreen, reasonable clothing, and awnings provide degrees of protection from harm that make those sorts of worries a neurosis more than a reality.

    NOTE: I’ve never really studied skin cancer in depth and don’t have citations for the above comments. I’m pretty sure I’m correct or close to correct on them, but just want to be clear about my lack of qualifications, OK? 🙂

    – MJM

  5. A lot of people talk about their opinions and state common information that has circulated. Most of this is mis information and not based on any factual science. Let me ask all the smart people. If there was no sunshine would most of if not all of the planet die off ? And if man kind has been exposed to this UVA and UVB sun rays for thousands of years. And of it is true there is no safe exposure limit of UVB or UVA. Why would our human race not have all died off of skin cancer thousands of years ago when we had no chemical sunscreens? Why is it that skin cancer has gone up dramatically since the industrial revolution and all the chemicals in our food and personal care products. And why does the body have a built in natural protection mechanism to prevent sun burn. And why does human skin make thousands of units of vitamin d within minutes of exposure to UVB radiation. And why does everyone seem to ignore all this information and just blame all the skin cancer on the sun and tanning beds.
    What other factors increase risk of skin cancer ? Ohh obesity increases your risk of skin cancer and we have an ever increasing rise in obesity. Why ignore that factor as a possible cause in the rise in nelanoma ? I try to always be open minded and look at both sides and it seems like there is not enough solid evidence to link tanning beds with akin cancer. If I am wrong please send me the actual links to the actual proof and quality science to back those claims. Not may lead to or we suspect it may cause ? Becomes you can say that about smoking and obesity that also could lead to increase skin cancer. So simply put just show me the actual proven science ???? If it exists then just show me.

  6. Tanning beds essentially subject users to carcinogenic solar radiation. There is no known safe level of solar radiation exposure.

    Not just tanning salons, but, even more importantly, daytime patio drinking and dining needs to be banned! No worker should be forced to expose themselves to carcinogenic solar radiation merely to serve the selfish melanoma-farms that want to lounge around under the sun and drive up our health care costs. Sunscreen and awnings provide only partial protection and are simply unacceptable. Radiation exposure is neither inherent nor necessary to the acts of drinking or dining, both of which can be easily and safely moved indoors

    How many babies have been orphaned because their helpless teen-aged moms were forced to work under the blistering ultraviolet rays of the solar furnace in order to feed their families? No one knows… except the orphaned children crying alone in their cribs at night.

    No one should be forced to choose between their health and a paycheck! Ban patio dining TODAY!

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains” (and possible future author of “Dissecting Antisunners’ Brains”…)

  7. This UV scare was never about protecting the public. It is about the dermatology industry wanting the 5 billion dollar indoor tanning business all to themselves.

  8. Gamecock, you are correct. Everyone should also know a lot more about other signs of disease. They should start learning such things at school instead of most of the nonsense taught in those prisons that are used to keep kids out of the way of adults.

  9. “If you’re worried about melanoma and the survival rate is 98% for early identification, then your best bet is to visit your dermatologist regularly.”

    Everyone should know the A-B-C-D of recognizing melanoma.

  10. “UV light, also emitted by tanning beds/lamps, is, in many cases, causative culprit of skin cancer in Caucasian Americans.”

    While this is a true statement, it is misleading. Toxicity is in the dose. It is excessive exposure that leads to skin cancer. Some exposure is good for you.

  11. Melanin helps shield skin against effects of sun such as skin cancers and premature aging. In African American skin, melanin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) approximately equivalent to 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin.6-8 this discrepancy illustrates why skin cancer is more prevalent in Caucasian people; it is, in fact, most common type of malignancy in US among Caucasians. Their inherently light skin color and low amounts of melanin leave them vulnerable to sun’s carcinogenic (cancer-causing) ultraviolet rays. UV light, also emitted by tanning beds/lamps, is, in many cases, causative culprit of skin cancer in Caucasian Americans.

  12. There are two types of tanning light bulbs. One is low ballast that gives you UVB sunlight. One is high ballast bulb that only gives you UVA. Your body uses UVB to make vitamin d. Guess what cuts down cancer risk? Vitamin d so sun scare caused more wide spread vitamin d deficiency and cancer risk goes up.

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