BFT readers are well aware of the relationship between sun exposure and skin damage. UVA and UVB exposure from the sun accounts for 80% or more of skin aging and increases the odds of developing the common types of skin cancer. Is it any surprise then that “artificial” sun exposure from tanning beds might carry similar risks? At least as far as basal cell carcinoma goes, that relationship has now been confirmed by researchers from the Yale School of Public Health who recently published their finding online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Compared to those who have never used it, young people who use indoor tanning have a 69% higher risk of developing basal cell carcinoma (BCC). The risk is strongest among women, the gender most likely to use tanning devices, and goes up with every year of use. The study found that 27% of early-onset BBC could be prevented when genders are combined if indoor tanning is avoided. For females as a group that rate of reduction leaps up to 43%.
BCC is the most common type of skin cancer, it rarely spreads or kills, but it can invade surrounding tissue and cause unsightly disfigurement. Most occur on parts of the body that are repeatedly exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck, but there appears to be an increase in cases of them appearing on the torso.
For the study, researchers interviewed 376 patients diagnosed with BCC and 390 controls without BCC who had been diagnosed with minor, benign, skin conditions. All subjects were under 40 years of age. They answered questions about whether they had ever used indoor tanning, and if so, at what age they started, how often they used it, how long did sessions last, the number of burns received as a result of tanning, and the type of tanning machine.
The analysis showed that:
• Ever using an indoor tanning machine was linked to a 69% higher risk of early-onset BCC
• This link was stronger among young women, for those who developed more than one BCC, and for those whose BCCs appeared on the torso or extremities
• The risk went up in a “dose-dependent” fashion for each of 3 variables: each year of indoor tanning, number of overall burns, and burns to biopsy site
The researchers conclude: “Indoor tanning was a strong risk factor for early-onset BCC, particularly among females. Indoor tanning should continue to be targeted by both policy-based and behavioral interventions, as the impact on BCC-associated morbidity may be substantial.”
Indoor tanning is already linked to melanoma, a less common but much deadlier form of skin cancer that is also increasing among young women. Estimates suggest around 30 million Americans use indoor tanning beds every year, with young women being the most common users.
Again, BFT wants to ask “just how important is that suntan?” Why not opt for the safer, faster “spray-a-tan?”
BFT is a strong advocate of sun protection whenever outdoors. For those who are determined to continue using tanning beds, we now suggest sun protection indoors as well. No one wants wrinkles but we bet most people want skin cancer even less.
PS: As you regular readers know, we are deep into the world of cytokines (cellular messenger molecules) and their role in aging. There are within your skin melanocyte stimulating cytokines. This cytokine family is secreted by skin fibroblasts (in response to UVB exposure) and keratinocytes (in response to UVA exposure). Tanning is an adaptive response whereby melanin (dark pigment) is produced by melanocytes, a third cell type in skin. The trigger is just light, right? Kind of like photosynthesis in a plant, but brown instead of green? Nice, natural, harmless? NO! ~ The trigger seems to be DNA damage (ouch!). DNA within skin cells are able to sense damage from UV light. In response, several cytokines are released that act both on the cell in which they are produced, and other cells in the area, to counteract the effects of DNA damage. The altered cytokine profile results in inflammation through attraction and activation of immune system cells, activation of collagen degrading enzymes, dilatation of blood vessels, etc. This inflammation is what ultimately results in fine lines, wrinkles, and dyspigmentation (color change). The older you get, the more healing becomes this inflammatory type. Over-expression of melanogenic (and related inflammatory) cytokines is responsible for age-related pigmentary changes. Like “age spots”.
So, every time you are tempted to go unexposed into the sun or tanning bed, remember that your primary defense signaling system is damage to your skin’s very precious DNA — the very stuff that when damaged can lead to mutation and then on to many types of cancer, as this post demonstrates.