Indoor Tanners: Are they taking Steps to Protect against Skin Cancer?

April 18, 2018

tanning bedNew Brunswick, N.J.  Previous research has shown that those who take part in indoor tanning are at a higher risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.  With that, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends those who take part in this activity be screened for skin cancer at regular intervals – but are they getting themselves checked and taking other preventative measures?

Carolyn J. Heckman, PhD, a researcher in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey explored this topic with colleagues at Fox Chase Cancer Center prior to joining Rutgers Cancer Institute. Dr. Heckman, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and is the lead and corresponding author of the work, shares more about the research published in the April 4 online edition of JAMA Dermatology (doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.0163):   

Q:  Why is this topic important to explore?

A:  Indoor tanning even one time increases the risk for skin cancer greatly. For example, one study found the risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, to be 74 percent greater among indoor tanners than non-tanners (Lazovich et al., 2010). Despite this, we know very little about skin cancer screening behavior among indoor tanners. Skin cancer screening can detect tumors when they are smaller, which is associated with better survival than later detection (Tripp et al., 2016).

Carolyn Heckman, PhD
Carolyn J. Heckman, PhD

Q:  Describe the research and your findings.

A:  We analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey conducted with more than 30,000 U.S. adults. We looked at rates of skin cancer screening by a physician among people who had indoor tanned and those who had not. About 16.5 percent of the sample had indoor tanned, most of them more than a year ago. About 19.5 percent of non-indoor tanners had been screened for skin cancer, and a little more than 30 percent of indoor tanners had. We also explored which other sociodemographic, healthcare, as well as skin cancer risk and protective variables were associated with skin cancer screening and found many similar ones among the two groups and some different ones. A key limitation is that data were collected at only one time-point, so we don’t know exactly when the screening occurred in relation to the indoor tanning. 

Q:  What is the take home message here?

A: The FDA recommends that indoor tanners be screened for skin cancer, but 70 percent of those who reported indoor tanning in this analysis have not done this. We need to develop ways to help providers and patients conduct this screening. For example, people with lower household incomes (less than $100,000 per year) were less likely to be screened, suggesting that making screening more accessible to this population might increase screening rates.

The research was supported in part by grants from the National Cancer Institute (P30CA006927, T32CA0090035). Disclosures and other information can be found at

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