Indoor Tanning Linked to Melanoma Diagnosis in Younger Women

Women younger than 40 may be more likely to frequent indoor tanning, and those who do are between two and six times more likely to develop melanoma, according to a new study.

Women who used indoor tanning beds were two to six times more likely to develop melanoma than those who did not, according to a case-control study of women in Minnesota. The study, which was published in JAMA Dermatology, also found that on average women younger than 40 started indoor tanning at a younger age than those older than 40.

Since indoor tanning has been linked to melanoma, and there has been a significant uptick in the incidence of melanoma in younger women in the United States, the results suggest that indoor tanning may be a reason for the rise in this deadly form of skin cancer.

DeAnn Lazovich, MPH, PhD, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, and coauthors analyzed the potential relationship among melanoma risk, indoor tanning, and age at melanoma diagnosis. They included 681 patients diagnosed with melanoma between 2004 and 2007 and 654 control individuals, all between the ages of 25 and 49.

Women under 30 who reported use of indoor tanning beds were six times more likely to have been diagnosed with melanoma than women who reported no use.

Women younger than 40 began indoor tanning at a younger age than did women ages 40 to 49 (16 vs 25; P < .001). The younger group of women also reported more frequent indoor tanning sessions compared with older women (100 vs 40; P < .001).

Among women diagnosed with melanoma before age 30, 33% had disease that started on the trunk compared with 24% among women ages 40 to 49.

Prior epidemiologic studies have shown that melanoma incidence rates are higher among women compared to men until the age of 50. The studies have also shown that the major site of melanoma diagnosis changed from the head and neck to the trunk among younger women, consistent with a link between the rise in melanoma rates and use of indoor tanning beds. 

Women comprised 68% of each group. Men included in the study were less likely to use indoor tanning beds than women (44.3% vs 78.2%). The study did not find a link between melanoma and indoor tanning among the men in the study, likely because of the smaller number of men that reported use of indoor tanning beds.

The study “highlights the need to address indoor tanning among young white women, among whom indoor tanning is most common,” wrote Gery P. Guy, Jr, PhD, MPH, of the division of cancer prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and coauthors, in an accompanying editorial. “Reducing exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning is an important strategy for melanoma prevention.”