May is skin cancer awareness month and as a dermatologist, and skin cancer specialist, this is one of the most important times of the year, one where my team and I re-double our efforts on essential conversations about sun safety and skin cancer awareness. This year we have a reason to be a little more optimistic than usual; the FDA has finally announced a landmark decision to impose a ban on indoor tanning for minors under 18.
Statistics show that 17% of teens have used a tanning bed in their lifetime and in correlation, the fasting growing cases of melanoma—the most deadly form of skin cancer—are within this group, specifically women aged 15-29.¹ Using a tanning bed before the age of 35 has been shown to raise the risk of developing melanoma by a striking 59%.² What the FDA is now reiterating in its clampdown are facts long known by myself and my peers: UVA and UVB ultraviolet radiation, from artificial sources just as from the sun, is a known carcinogen that damages skin cells and exponentially increases the risk of melanoma and benign mole progression. With 1 in 5 Americans expected to develop skin cancer in their lifetime, what is most heartbreaking is the knowledge that so many of these cases could be prevented.³
The encouraging news is that after years of presenting research and data on the correlation between tanning and skin cancer, particularly among teenagers and young adults, we are finally making inroads. The Stop Skin Cancer grassroots campaign initiated by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) early this year is testament to the widespread, collective call to action in our industry. Physicians and their patients across the nation shared over 12,000 letters with the FDA in support of the new legislative proposals.4
Whenever the FDA’s ruling does go into effect there will be a nationwide restriction on tanning for minors under 18 and adults will have sign waivers every six months acknowledging the health risks. It will be the most significant progress in the US in years in efforts at combating skin cancer. But even as we take a moment to contemplate this great step forward in the fight, we have to remember to never become complacent. We must keep fighting for the only right answer in this debate: a complete ban on non-medical use of indoor UV tanning devices. Only then can we hope to bring the number of skin cancer deaths related to preventable UV exposure anywhere close to where it should be: zero.
To learn more about skin cancer and our work at Kline Dermatology please click here.