According to a study of more than 73,000 women, use of tanning beds increases the risk of three common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. These results were presented at the 10th AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.

Sun exposure has long been linked with skin cancer, and a growing body of evidence indicates that tanning beds also increase risk. Exposure to sunlamps or tanning beds has been classified as “known to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[1]

Basal cell carcinoma is the most commonly diagnosed type of skin cancer. Most cases can be treated with surgery or other types of local treatment and are not life-threatening, but the condition often occurs on the face and can be disfiguring. In the most severe cases, the cancer may be very large, may invade structures other than the skin, or may spread to other parts of the body. In these advanced cases, it may not be possible to surgically remove the cancer, and treatment is more challenging.

Squamous cell carcinoma is also very common and is usually treatable, although in some cases the cancer can metastasize (spread to other parts of the body) and become life-threatening.

Melanoma is less common than basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, but is also much more deadly. Each year in the United States, there are more than 70,000 new diagnoses of melanoma and close to 9,000 deaths from the disease.

To evaluate how use of tanning beds affects risk of skin cancer, researchers assessed information from the Nurses’ Health Study II.[2] The study enrolled more than 73,000 women. Study participants provided information about tanning bed use during high school and college and between the ages of 25 and 35.

The results indicated a dose-response effect with tanning bed use: women with higher exposure to tanning beds had a higher risk of skin cancer.

  • For each four visits per year to a tanning bed, risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma increased by 15% and risk of melanoma increased by 11%.
  • For basal cell carcinoma, tanning bed use at younger ages (during high school or college) had the strongest effect on risk.

The results provide additional evidence that tanning beds increase the risk of several types of skin cancer, including melanoma.


[1] Report on Carcinogens, Eleventh Edition; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program.

[2] Zhang M. Indoor tanning use and incidence of skin cancer. Presented at the 10th AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research. Boston, MA. Oct 22-25, 2011.

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