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Skin cancer risk linked to tanning devices warrants stronger protections for minors

Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University supports the state legislature’s important step forward in skin cancer prevention

The Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) supports the Oregon State Legislature’s proactive stance in introducing House Bill 2896 today, which addresses Oregon’s alarmingly high skin cancer death rates. Skin cancers remain a highly preventable form of the disease that impacts a disproportionate number of Oregonians. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Oregon fourth in the nation for its death rate from skin cancer; the melanoma death rate for women in Oregon is the highest in the country.

The bill restricts children younger than 18 from using tanning devices, unless proof of a physician exemption is provided.

Tanning beds, booths and sun lamps expose a user to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a proven human carcinogen. This exposure has been linked with skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, and squamous cell carcinoma. Indoor tanning can increase a person’s chance of developing melanoma by 20 percent. Each additional session during the same year boosts the risk about 2 percent, according to a 2012 study published in BMJ: British Medical Journal.

The practice of indoor tanning is particularly dangerous for young people. Those who begin to use indoor tanning devices before age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of developing melanoma, according to research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The younger the exposure occurs, the higher the risk of developing cancer.

“Children should be protected from exposure to cancer-causing products,” said Brian Druker, M.D., director of the Knight Cancer Institute at OHSU. “We know plain and simple that UV tanning beds cause cancer. There is no question that they should be regulated, just as cigarettes are.”

Oregon, like 33 other states, has some restrictions on the use of tanning beds for children younger than 18, by obtaining a one-time parental consent. Despite this, a 2012 Congressional report estimates that 40 percent of white females between the ages of 16 and 18 visit commercial tanning facilities. “Clearly, these rules are not yielding the desired results in protecting children from the cancer-causing risk of tanning bed use, and this legislation is an important next step in preventing skin cancer,” Druker said.

Further, based on an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) Dermatology, more people have had skin cancer in the past three decades than all other cancers combined.“As a state and as a nation, we should make cancer prevention one of our priorities,” Druker said. “Our hope is that not only will Oregon make a change, but that our state will inspire others to do the same.”


A skin cancer survivor who frequented tanning beds in her teens is available for interviews upon request.

Brian Druker, M.D., is director of the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute, associate dean for oncology in the OHSU School of Medicine, JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research at OHSU, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

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