Tanning Teens Run High Risk Of Skin Cancer, FDA Warns

Filed under: In The News, Health & Safety: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens

Katie Donnar, 18, who frequently used tanning beds, shows the scar from where a melanoma was removed from her leg. Credit: Daniel R. Patmore, AP

Tanning beds cause cancer.

That's the conclusion of a report by the World Health Organization's cancer division, and young people run a particularly high risk.

WHO researchers looked at numerous studies and concluded the risk of melanoma jumps by 75 percent in people who used tanning beds in their teens and 20s.

That's one reason, according to the Associated Press, that U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials are debating whether or not to slap sterner warning labels on tanning beds and sun lamps.

Katie Donnar thinks that might be a good idea. The 18-year-old Indiana woman tells the wire service she learned the hard way there's no such thing as a safe tan. She has the scar on her leg to prove it.

It marks the spot where she found a cancerous growth a year ago while she was preparing for the Miss Indiana pageant.

Although she can pinpoint tanning beds as the cause, she tells the Associated Press she started the ol' fake and bake when she was a sixth-grade cheerleader. She tanned at least every other day during parts of high school, she adds. She even owned her own tanning bed.

"It seemed somewhat of a myth that I was putting myself at risk," the Bruceville, Ind., teen tells the wire service. "The warning label was so small -- nothing to make me stop and think, 'This is real.' "

Food and Drug Administration officials regulate tanning beds as "Class I Devices." That means they're considered low-risk medical devices. That classification also includes bandages. Like Donnar said, tanning beds have warning labels.

They're just small.

FDA officials say the labels don't shout cancer warnings loud enough -- especially to young people. Officials began exploring bigger warning labels last March.

It would be better if people didn't use tanning beds at all, Sharon Miller, the FDA's ultraviolet radiation specialist, tells the Associated Press. "But we know people do use them, so we want to make them as low-risk as possible," she adds.

However, the president of the Indoor Tanning Association tells the AP this is an example of unnecessary -- and scientifically unjustified -- government regulation. Dan Humiston tells the wire service people are only hurt when they've been out in the sun (real or electric) too long.

Humiston's organization and the FDA can agree on one point: The biggest risk comes from overexposure. The AP reports people often go to tanning salons three or more times a week when a single weekly visit would create the same visible tan.

Donnar tells the AP she gets her tan from a can these days when she competes for pageants. "My friends call me 'snow princess' now but I feel comfortable in my own skin," she adds.

Related: Skin Cancer, Melanoma: Exams And Tests

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.