— Ciana and Katrina Cahill started tanning at age 15.
month, the Wexford natives, who are now 21 and 26,
respectively, would go to the salon, undress, rub on some
lotion, strap on protective goggles, and lie back surrounded
by the tanning bed’s bluish glow. But as relaxed as the
sisters may have felt, each minute they spent under the
tanning bulbs increased their risk of cancer-causing mutations
in their skin. And according to recent studies, that risk was
even higher because of their young age.
and Drug Administration is now trying to prevent Americans
like the Cahills from tanning before the age of 18. Late last
month, the organization announced a reclassification of
sunlamp products such as tanning beds from low to moderate
risk, and ordered that these machines have a black-box warning
against their use by children under 18. Yet the response from
cancer researchers, tanning professionals and indoor tanners
has been anything but unanimous.
think that indoor tanning is not widespread, think again. A
2009 study found that, on average, there were more tanning
salons than Starbucks or McDonald’s in American cities. The
Indoor Tanning Association estimates that roughly 30 million
Americans go to these salons every year.
those numbers have been increasing, especially among
adolescent girls, said dermatologist Laura Ferris, who runs a
high-risk skin cancer clinic at UPMC. "Like using drugs,
tanning can actually be addictive," she said. "It
releases the same endorphins, the feel-good hormones."
have shown that the UV rays emitted by tanning beds increases
the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by
about 60 percent. "We see melanoma increasing at a high
rate among the exact people who use tanning beds," said
Dr. Ferris. She finds it shocking to see how many of the
Pittsburghers she treats are indoor tanners, and just how many
of them began tanning as teens.
Ferris explained why the FDA is especially worried about
tanning among minors. Within our cells, we have an anti-cancer
police force made up of tumor suppressor genes. Their job is
to repair damaged DNA which could lead to cancer. If these
genes are themselves damaged by UV rays, they are unable to do
their job, and the cancer-causing mutations can have a field
day, making cells proliferate to form a malignant tumor.
earlier you start having those mutations form, the higher the
risk that you will have enough of them to develop
cancer," Dr. Ferris said. Which means that the earlier
you start tanning, the likelier you are to get melanoma.
Ferris would like to see a nationwide ban on indoor tanning
for minors, but she is glad that the FDA is taking this first
step. She also pointed out that in May Gov. Tom Corbett signed
legislation that bans those 16 and under from using tanning
beds and requires parental consent for 17-year-olds. This
takes effect in July.
Lazovich takes a harder line. The University of Minnesota
epidemiologist, who has been researching skin cancer and
tanning since 2000, is frustrated about the FDA advancing in
half measures. "I think it is very problematic," she
said. "It leaves it up to the minor to see the warning.
There is no onus on the salon operator."
study released May 29, Ms. Lazovich found that the risk of
melanoma was nearly four times higher for those who had tanned
indoors than for those who had not. This study countered the
common belief that tanning indoors can be a healthy way to
prevent outdoor sunburns and the cancers they might cause:
Even those participants who had been severely sunburned a
number of times had a much lower risk of melanoma than indoor
tanners who had never been burned.
of clear evidence that tanning increases the risk of cancer,
tanners and tanning salon operators have mixed feelings about
the recent FDA warning.
not know about the change. "No one told us this. Nobody
will enforce it," said a tanning salon manager in Oakland
who did not want her name or workplace published. When asked
about enforcement, an FDA spokesperson wrote that the
organization can refuse to approve devices that do not meet
national standards. They can also "take various
enforcement actions" based on inspections or complaints.
tanning salons require parental authorization for minors
already, and employees said that the transition would not have
much effect on business. Lisa Masley, 35, co-owner of
Hollywood Tanning in Ross and Monroeville, feels that it will
even out the competition with those salons that have looser
Cahill sisters feel that the FDA has overstepped its bounds.
"If your parents say you’re allowed, you should be
allowed," said Ciana. "They’re your
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