Ever since the 1920s, getting a tan has been highly fashionable in many Western cultures. Despite the growing mountain of evidence regarding the dangers, many (mainly young) people continue to use solariums as a way to attain what is often seen as a “healthy tan.” However, the evidence just keeps piling up with two new studies out of Australia, home of the “bronzed Aussie,” showing that using a solarium significantly raises ones chances of being diagnosed with skin cancer and that the risks increase as the age of solarium use decreases.
A study by a team of Australian researchers led by Dr. Anne Cust of the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne looked at age differences in the risk of skin cancer associated with solariums.
“Our findings indicate that solarium use causes around three quarters of melanomas occurring in people 18-29 years of age who have used a solarium, and the risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer doubles if first exposure to solariums happens before the age of 20,” Dr Cust says. “We estimate that a large proportion – over 16 per cent – of melanoma cases in young people could be prevented in Australia by avoiding solarium exposure.”
As well as revealing that the earlier someone first uses a solarium is associated with greater risk of melanoma, the study also revealed risk increased with cumulative use of solariums. While the figures are alarming for Australians, Dr. Cust stresses that the overall picture is likely to be even worse elsewhere in the world.
“Since Australia is reported to have the lowest frequency of solarium use of developed countries, the proportion of all cases of early-onset melanoma attributable to solarium use is almost certainly higher in other developed countries.”
A second study out of the University of Sydney backs up these findings, with results showing study participants aged 18 – 39 who had used a sun bed were 41 percent more likely to develop a melanoma than those who hadn’t. They also found that it took only ten sessions in a solarium over the course of their lifetime to double the risk of developing this deadly form of skin cancer if they began using them before 20 years of age.
MelanomaMelanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It occurs as a result of ultra violet (UV) radiation damaging the chemical bonds in DNA. A tan is the defense the body has evolved to reduce the chances of radiation reaching our DNA. In the presence of UV radiation, a pigment called melanin changes to become darker and the body also produces more of it. This dark brown pigment absorbs some of the UV radiation, preventing it from damaging the skin's DNA. Yet frequent skin tans expose your cells to routine doses of UV radiation, creating more chances that a deadly mutation will form.
If detected early enough the recovery rate for melanoma is close to 100 percent. However, late detection, when the melanoma is more than three millimeters deep, has only a 59 per cent survival rate. With the rate of melanoma cases worldwide increasing faster than any other cancer there is growing demand for early detection instruments.
Australian company, CSIRO Biotech Imaging, has developed a digital mole monitoring and analysis system called ‘SolarScan’. The system can be easily used in medical clinics as a diagnostic aid in detecting melanoma. By using an image of the patient’s lesion, the Image Analysis software can obtain vital indicators of melanoma. From an image of a patient's skin lesion, the Image Analysis software extracts and measures features considered by experts to be important indicators of melanoma.
Researchers at John Hopkins University have also developed a prototype non-invasive infrared scanning system that works by looking for the tiny temperature difference between healthy tissue and a growing tumor. Meanwhile, scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have developed an imaging technique that accurately defines the melanomas boundaries to guide surgeons in removing it.
However, none of these systems can prevent melanoma – only detect it. So while a little time in the sun is not a bad thing, as UV light is also important for your body's production of vitamin D, it might be worth considering a spray tan if you’re desperate to get a tan. Not only won’t it increase your chances of skin cancer – it won’t cause premature aging of the skin either.