What do Tanning Beds, Cigarettes and Asbestos have in Common: They All Cause Cancer
July 31, 2009 — Research from a special committee of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that the ultraviolet light used in tanning beds is as carcinogenic as asbestos, cigarettes, radium and arsenic. Before the release of the report, tanning lights had been only classified as “probably carcinogenic in humans.”
Some tanning salons claim that their beds use only UV-A, which was thought to be safer than beds that used lights emitting both UV-A and UV-B wavelength radiation. The research committee said this is not the case. They found that all types of ultraviolet radiation cause tumors–not just UV-B. The risk of skin cancer increases 75% when people start using tanning beds before age 30.
How does the cancer caused by tanning beds relate to cancer caused by asbestos or tobacco? For all three, they have a dose-response relationship curve–the greater the cumulative exposure the greater the risk of developing cancer. For example, you may not cause a cell mutation that could lead to a form of skin cancer in your first trip to the tanning bed; each subsequent visit increases your risk of developing cancer. The same with tobacco and asbestos, increased cancer risk comes from increased exposure.
While the types of cancer caused by tanning, asbestos and cigarettes are significantly different, the important point is the risk of these cancers can be significantly be reduced with some simple precautions. If you smoke, quitting smoking is the first step to reduce your risk of lung cancer. To reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, avoid the use of tanning beds and limit prolonged sun exposure. Asbestos is more complicated as the naked eye cannot see respirable asbestos fibers. See Asbestos Network’s risk factors for asbestos disease to learn about the many places where asbestos exposure could unknowingly occur.