“Oh my god you look so tan!!!” I exclaimed to my friend when she walked up to lacrosse practice one afternoon in May. For some reason being tan has somehow been associated with looking pretty or healthy or good. My pale friends would pout and whine about their skin tone in the winter, or how they burn in the summer and don’t even end up tan (being half black I’ve never really felt this pain but I have been around enough complaints). So what is their genius solution to this problem? Tanning beds of course. When I first heard that my friends went to tanning beds I was absolutely horrified. To me tanning beds and skin cancer go together just like smoking and lung cancer do. My friends insisted that it was fine, nothing was going to happen to them, and that I was overreacting. Plus, I had told them they looked great!!! So why should they stop? I decided to look into it, and see how strong the connection between tanning beds and skin cancer really is.
A number of conclusions could be drawn by looking at this data. The null hypothesis would be that nothing is going on, meaning that tanning beds have absolutely no effect on your chances of getting skin cancer in the future. However, my hypothesis is that something IS happening: The tanning bed is causing the skin cancer. Obviously this is a hot topic, especially among young people, so there have been an amount of studies on this. I think that the most successful studies they could do would be a study modeled after the longitudinal smoking lung cancer study: They ask young people if they used tanning beds, and then they would follow these people through their lives and see if they were diagnosed with skin cancer later in life. However, there is also a lot of previous information about this issue, so meta-analysis of existing data is also a great way to gather information as stated by epidemiologists Swerdlow and Weinstock here. When looking at studies I also realized that there were a lot of variables that could vary from person to person which would therefore effect the results. Some of the variables that this article mentioned included the wavelengths of UV rays that were emitted over time, the dosage received, and the characteristics of the people in the study (people with light hair, eyes and skin burn more easily and are most at risk). The Skin Cancer Foundation conducted a meta-analysis which included 88 studies, 406,696 participants, and three geographic regions that showed that the number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is HIGHER than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking each year.
I think that the most mind-blowing thing about these results is that all of this could be avoided!!!!! Smoking is a little harder because you can get addicted to nicotine and actually feel the need to smoke, but tanning is literally just a beauty thing!! I think that it is so ridiculous that someone would but themselves at such a high risk of cancer just to look a little darker. The good news is that there continues to be a lot more education about the dangers of tanning and legislation (http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/indoor-tanning-restrictions.aspx) is even being passed. These are the first steps to protect young people from the dangers of tanning.