Do tanning beds cause cancer?

In genetics class today, we were wrapping up the discussion of mutations, and I said something (again) about how caucasians should stay the hell out of the sun. A student said “but there’s no evidence that tanning beds cause cancer.” She was quite vehement on this point, saying that her mother works for cancer doctors, and they told her that there was no study that showed that exposure to UV in a tanning bed caused any skin cancer. I disagreed, but when I got back to my office I couldn’t resist looking it up (again).

Call me compulsive, but I wound up making this little public-service page about the risks of tanning beds. I don’t want to spoil the suspense, but the answer is, yes, there is strong evidence that connects indoor tanning UV exposure to melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Does that tell you that a specific cancer was caused by a specific visit to the tanning salon? Of course, you can’t ever tell that for sure. Nor can you be sure that smoking caused a particular instance of lung cancer, but that doesn’t mean that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer.

My take-home messages? 1) I am sort of compulsive and 2) use the spray-on stuff if you just can’t stand being white.

One Response to “Do tanning beds cause cancer?”

  1. Christian Barr says:

    Your student will be glad to know that the super high pressure beds filter out 99% of the UV light. I was informed of this just last week when I signed up for 3 super high pressure tans at 40 bucks each. The take home message: stick with the spray-on stuff.

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