The Numbers Add Up: Just One Tanning Session Multiplies Skin Cancer Risk

A single ultraviolet (UV) tanning session increases tanners’ risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) by 29 percent, according to a large new study. Indoor tanners under the age of 25 run an even higher risk: their chances of SCC are doubled, and their odds of developing BCC climb by 40 percent.

Researchers estimated that close to 171,000, or about 5 percent, of the 3.5 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC, mostly BCC and SCC) diagnosed in the US every year can be attributed to indoor tanning. This is the first time researchers have been able to link indoor tanning definitively to a specific number of cases; data on NMSC are often hard to pinpoint, since few cases are reported to cancer registries. Previously, investigators determined that one indoor tanning session raises tanners’ risk of melanoma by 20 percent. Melanoma killed approximately 9,180 people in the US in 2012.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, is a meta-analysis, a review of multiple studies done over more than 30 years. “We were surprised by the number of cases attributed to tanning beds,” lead author Eleni Linos, MD, commented. What’s more, “This is just an annual estimate for the United States: if we extrapolate this over a 5-year-period or more countries, the numbers [of NMSC that can be attributed to indoor tanning] are much higher.”