Guys, this news is so crazy and disturbing that we’re just going to jump right in: Every year, indoor tanning causes more cases of skin cancer than does smoking for lung cancer.
Let us repeat: The number of skin cancers we can blame each year on indoor tanning is higher than the number of lung cancers we can blame on cigarettes.
And to put that in perspective, about 90 percent of lung cancer cases are attributable to cigarette smoking whereas only somewhere between three and 22 percent of skin cancer cases are attributable to indoor tanning.
All this is courtesy of an eye-opening, huge meta-analysis published in JAMA Dermatologylast week. Those researchers pored over stats from 88 major studies over the past 20 years, covering almost 500,000 total study participants from 16 western countries (including the United States, Australia, and countries in Northern and Western Europe).
Overall, the researchers estimated that somewhere around 450,000 cases of skin cancer (including basal and squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) each year can be chalked up to indoor tanning, versus about 360,000 cases of lung cancer you can blame on smoking.
Also among their findings: Indoor tanning is incredibly common. 35 percent of adults, 19 percent of adolescents and a whopping 55 percent of university students have visited a tanning bed (14, 18 and 43 percent, respectively, in the past year!).
“These numbers are much higher than we expected and it appears they are going up over time,” says study author Eleni Linos, M.D., a professor of dermatology at the University of California at San Francisco.
Compare that to smoking, which (while still way too common) is starting to see a decline, and you’ve gotta ask yourself why we don’t see more anti-tanning initiatives out there.
“People are already aware of the harms of smoking, but they are not aware of the harms of indoor tanning,” Dr. Linos says. In fact, some doctors even prescribe indoor tanning as an antidote to a handful of ailments. (WTF.) “We need to get the message out that indoor tanning is dangerous, and causes a tremendous health burden to young people, including children who are currently exposed.”
The bottom line here? Don’t tan (indoors or out!). And if you’ve been doing it already, there’s no time like the present to stop.
“The only other advice is to get the message out to friends and family members. We are all influenced by the habits and opinions of those close to us, and we can use this influence for good,” Dr. Linos says. “Start spreading the word about the harms of indoor tanning to everyone you know, especially young people who are at highest risk.”
“It’s time to put an end to this harmful habit,” she says.
Couldn’t agree more.