The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announcement yesterday regarding regulation of tanning beds will undoubtedly save the lives of many, many people. Their recommendation is that given the known dangers of tanning beds, consumers deserve a fair warning of the risk they’re taking when they use these UV-emitting devices.
Our scientific understanding of the risks of tanning beds is not new. Three years ago, the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) participated in an FDA-hosted hearing, during which medical experts took turns testifying on the dangers of tanning beds before the FDA panel. Doctors, researchers and health experts all agreed – the connection between UV exposure and skin cancer is clear. Data was presented showing how UV radiation can lead to melanoma, and overwhelming evidence supported the danger of tanning beds. After two days of testimonies, the FDA panel concluded that the cancer risk of UV lamps is indisputable. Additional research demonstrated that tanning beds also have physically addictive properties.
In the years since that hearing in 2010, important reports have emerged, creating an unambiguous imperative for the FDA to take action.
An investigation report release by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2012 revealed that tanning salon owners and staff were citing the FDA’s inaction as “proof” that tanning beds are safe. Several salon staffers were caught telling an investigator posing as a teenage girl, “If they were dangerous, the FDA would put a warning label on them!”
In 2013, the National Cancer Institute released alarming statistics showing that the rate of young people, especially young women, being diagnosed with melanoma was climbing at an average of 2 percent annually. Data also showed that young women and girls were 1.6 times more likely than young men and boys to develop melanoma.
The announcement yesterday may mean we will we see the tide turn. The FDA has recommended that UV lamps be changed to a Class II medical device. Right now, they are rated as Class I items, considered to have minimal health risk, like adhesive bandages or tongue depressors. The FDA also recommends adding warning labels that include the following:
The use of tanning beds is not recommended for people under the age 18;
People with a personal or family history of skin cancer should not use tanning beds; and,
People who use tanning beds often should be checked regularly for skin cancer.
Upgrading tanning beds to a Class II device means tanning salons will be required to demonstrate they are properly maintaining their equipment. In practice, indoor tanning salons routinely underplay the health risks of tanning, rarely calibrate the power of their lamps, fail to control the level of exposure their clients’ experience, and market disproportionately to teenagers and young women.
Yet, we must recognize that the FDA’s job is not done. Not. Done. The announcement yesterday is simply a recommendation. Before we see a single warning label on tanning beds, multiple processes must be followed and barriers overcome – during which there will be likely howls of protest from an industry that makes its living from promising glamour and beauty and, instead, delivers wrinkles and a deadly cancer.
The FDA’s history of going up against the tobacco industry demonstrates that common sense, science and the agency’s commitment to public health can prevail against industry pressure. The role of tanning beds in the rising rate of melanoma diagnoses is clear and the MRF has confidence that the FDA will move quickly on yesterday’s recommendations to ensure every person who considers using a tanning bed is fully informed of the risks and potential health implications.
Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States and can strike men and women of all ages, all races and skin types. With a one in 50 lifetime risk of developing melanoma, nearly 77,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2013, resulting in over 9,400 deaths. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25- to 29-years-old and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15- to 29-years-old.
The majority of melanomas occur on the skin; in fact, melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Melanoma can also occur in the eye (ocular, or uveal melanoma), in mucous membranes (mucosal melanoma), or even beneath fingernails or toenails.
About the Melanoma Research Foundation
The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) is the largest independent organization devoted to melanoma. Committed to the support of medical research in finding effective treatments and eventually a cure for melanoma, the MRF also educates patients and physicians about prevention, diagnosis and the treatment of melanoma. The MRF is an active advocate for the melanoma community, helping to raise awareness of this disease and the need for a cure. The MRF’s website is the premier source for melanoma information seekers. More information is available at www.melanoma.org. Find the MRF on Facebook and Twitter.