Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sunbeds as Carcinogens

Finally some sense has been made about the use of tanning beds. A study by cancer researchers supported by the World Health Organization have determined that the use of tanning beds before the age of 30 increases the risk of developing skin cancer, specifically the deadly form melanoma, by 75%. Although the tanning bed industry has for the most part denied any link between tanning beds and increased rates of skin cancer - from a genetic point of view, it was only a matter of time until the evidence supported what we already knew: Lying inside a metal coffin and being bombarded by radiation is bad for your health.

The bottom line is that UV radiation, in all wavelengths, damages DNA to some degree. Some forms of UV are worse than others, but no wavelength is DNA "friendly". To put it bluntly, UV radiation fries DNA. More scientifically, UV radiation causes small breaks in the DNA molecule and the formation of a chemical structure called a thymine dimer. Thymine dimers represent a special challenge for our DNA repair mechanisms, and although our cells have evolved mechanisms to repair these structures, the changes that the repair generates an unintended detrimental mutation is high. If this mutation occurs in a gene that is responsible for regulating cell growth (or maybe even mitochondria now?), the result can be an out-of-control cell - commonly called cancer.

Of course, the head of the The Sunbed Association disputes the claim, stating that there is no link between responsible use of sunbeds and cancer. Seems like similar statements were made in the 1970s and 1980s with regards to cigarettes. I imagine that the debate will now focus on what constitutes "responsible". But according to this study, the only responsible use would be to lie down in the tanning bed and not turn on the UV light. Anything else is simply inviting an increased risk of death.

For more info - see this article in USAToday

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