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Exploring the ‘Why’ of Frequent Tanning Bed Use among Young Women

$700K Grant awarded to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey scientist to develop behavioral interventions
Wed, 02/19/2014 - 00:00

Jerod L. Stapleton, PhDNew Brunswick, N.J. – Why do some young women frequently use indoor tanning beds, even though they know it can increase their chances of developing melanoma and other forms of skin cancer? And what can be done to help convince women to reduce that risk?  These are questions Jerod L. Stapleton, PhD, a behavioral scientist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, aims to answer with the help of nearly $700,000 in funding  from the National Cancer Institute.  The recently-awarded Career Development Grant will support Dr. Stapleton’s examination of this activity and the development of a web-based behavioral intervention specifically tailored toward indoor tanning users' experiences. 

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 77,000 cases of melanoma -- the deadliest of skin cancers -- were reported last year in the United States with 9,400 deaths from the disease.  Studies have shown an association between the use of ultraviolet indoor tanning beds and melanoma risk, with the highest risk increase among those who take part in this practice on a frequent basis.  Despite these findings, approximately 30 percent of Caucasian women aged 18 to 25 years old engaged in indoor tanning in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  That same survey also found that one in five of these women used indoor tanning at rates higher than those already shown to greatly increase melanoma risk.   Research supported by this new grant aims to understand why frequent indoor tanners continue to engage in this practice and address a lack of scientifically-based programs to encourage this population to reduce such use -- in turn reducing melanoma risk.  

While previous research on this topic indicates improving mood and appearance as reasons to take part in this activity, Stapleton, an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, will explore why frequent indoor tanners view this behavior as meaningful, socially important, and useful.  Stapleton and colleagues will use a strategy that will focus on understanding how a user perceives the benefits and consequences of indoor tanning, identifying the types personal or social events that serve to promote such activity, and documenting a user’s understanding of when and how often indoor tanning will help them achieve a desired result. The goal is to create a behavioral intervention that will motivate change among frequent users by encouraging them to consider the reasons behind their use of tanning beds, reshaping their knowledge about tanning frequency and promoting alternatives to this practice. 

The team will first identify intervention content by conducting a series of interviews and focus groups with those who frequently use this method of tanning. Female volunteers aged 18 to 25 who have engaged in indoor tanning at least 10 times in the previous year will be sought from the greater New Brunswick area including students from Rutgers University. The information gained from this earlier phase will be developed into a web-based tool including twice-weekly text messages with tips designed to help frequent indoor tanners monitor, reduce, and change their tanning behavior. Participants also will be sought to provide their opinions of the online tool in order to further refine the intervention for a larger-scale evaluation trial.

“It is clear that tanning is seen as attractive and desirable among many young women and that having a tan can provide a self-esteem boost.  However, when it comes to frequent users, going tanning is likely to take on a significant importance at personal, social, and even emotional levels,” notes Stapleton.   “A greater understanding of the decision-making of frequent indoor tanning users to engage in this activity can help researchers develop effective interventions for this population. A behavioral intervention program designed to encourage tanners to meaningfully reflect on their reasons for tanning may prompt them to take steps to reduce or change this practice, thus helping to reduce their risk of developing melanoma.”

Other investigators include Sharon Manne, PhD, associate director for cancer prevention, control and population science at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and professor of medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; Benjamin F. Crabtree, PhD, research member at the Cancer Institute and chief of the Division of Research at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; and Howard Leventhal, PhD, research member at the Cancer Institute and Board of Governors Professor of Health Sciences at Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.

The grant (K07CA175115) will support the work through 2019. 

About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey ( is the state’s first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. As part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the Cancer Institute of New Jersey is dedicated to improving the detection, treatment and care of patients with cancer, and to serving as an education resource for cancer prevention. Physician-scientists at the Cancer Institute engage in translational research, transforming their laboratory discoveries into clinical practice, quite literally bringing research to life.  To make a tax-deductible gift to support the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 732-235-8614 or visit Follow us on Facebook at

The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Network is comprised of hospitals throughout the state and provides the highest quality cancer care and rapid dissemination of important discoveries into the community. Flagship Hospital: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. System Partner: Meridian Health (Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center, Riverview Medical Center, Southern Ocean Medical Center, and Bayshore Community Hospital). Major Clinical Research Affiliate Hospitals: Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center, Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Medical Center, and Cooper University Hospital. Affiliate Hospitals: JFK Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), Shore Medical Center, Somerset Medical Center, The University Hospital and University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro. 


Michele Fisher