Study: European Tanning Bed Users 20 Percent More Likely to Get Deadly Melanoma

Study links 5 percent of European melanoma cases to tanning beds.

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For years, doctors have warned about the dangers of tanning beds. Now, a new report published in the British Medical Journal finds that about 5 and a half percent of melanoma cases in Europe are related to tanning bed use.

The study also found that people who regularly use tanning beds are 20 percent more likely to get melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, than people who have never tanned artificially. People who start using tanning beds before age 35 are nearly 90 percent more likely to get skin cancer than people who never use tanning beds.

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"The results of this meta-analysis are in full agreement with the considerable amount of data pointing to childhood and adolescence as key periods for initiation and development of melanoma in adulthood," the authors wrote.

Previous studies have linked artificial tanning with melanoma as well as several other types of less fatal skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Researchers at the International Prevention Research Institute in France analyzed the results of 27 previous studies published over the past 30 years that looked at the circumstances surrounding more than 11,000 skin cancer cases. The results contradict a 2006 study that didn't find a specific link between artificial tanning and melanoma risk, but the authors say that recent, large-scale studies have given them sufficient data to link the two.

According to the French researchers, people who use tanning beds tend to be "more likely to have fair skin, have red or blond hair, [and] have more freckles" and may see artificial tanning as a safer alternative to tanning outside. People who fall into that category may also be more susceptible to skin cancer caused by UV radiation from the sun.

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In the United States, about 5 percent of people are estimated to use tanning beds. According to a study published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in May, about 30 percent of white women between the ages of 18 and 25 in the United States used a tanning bed in 2010. Of all white women who reported tanning, 58 percent said they took 10 or more trips to the salon. According to the British Medical Journal report, each trip to the tanning salon increases melanoma risk by about 1.8 percent.

Some European countries have put strict limits on indoor tanning, especially for minors. So far, only California has banned teens under the age of 18 from tanning indoors. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, most commonly known as "Obamacare," put a 10 percent sales tax on indoor tanning services.

John Overstreet, a spokesperson for the Indoor Tanning Association, which represents thousands of tanning salons and tanning bed manufacturers, writes in an email that the study "has nothing to do with tanning in the United States," because most European countries had few tanning restrictions or regulations until recently.

"The United States Food and Drug Administration ... requires that all tanning equipment used in the United States carry labels specifying the recommended exposure times for each skin type, which have been calculated to prevent burning," he writes. "The deficiencies of sunbed use in Europe are not applicable to most of the United States ... Burning of customers [in states with strict regulation enforcement] is rare."

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com.