Preference for tanning beds makes gay and bisexual men twice more likely to develop skin cancer than heterosexual men, a recent study has shown.
Research was conducted by a team of experts at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, and the findings were reported in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
The authors reviewed data from California Health Interview Surveys, which had been recorded every 2 years from 2001 and 2009. Approximately 78,500 adult straight males were included, as well as 108,000 straight women. 3,000 gay and bisexual men and more than 3,000 gay and bisexual women also participated as subjects.
Researchers aimed to analyze the popularity of indoor tanning among these categories of respondents, as well as to investigate the effects caused by this activity.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 5 million people in the U.S are treated for skin cancer every year, and approximately 400,000 of them develop the disease following tanning bed use.
As health experts point out, indoor tanning is just as harmful as unprotected sun exposure, and in fact people are much more likely to get sunburned by tanning beds because they are exposed to high levels of UV radiation in a short period of time.
As a result, they risk premature skin aging (wrinkles, age spots), and also skin cancers such as melanoma (the deadliest kind), squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Given this worrying trend doctors are firmly against indoor tanning, especially among adolescents or early adults.
However, the study showed that tanning beds are still extremely popular among young women. Around a third of those aged between 18 and 21 resort to indoor tanning, their main motivation being the desire to look more attractive and youthful.
In addition, even though this habit becomes less prevalent among female participants as they grow older, a fifth of those aged between 30 and 34 still frequent tanning salons.
For the first time ever, researchers also investigated tanning bed use among members of the LGBT community. It was determined the rate of indoor tanning among gay and bisexual men (aged 18 and up) is approximately 3 to 6 times higher than among heterosexual men. On the other hand, gay or bisexual women are 43 to 46% as likely to use tanning beds, compared to straight women.
Researchers also showed a link between this trends and the incidence of malignant melanoma and non-melanoma. For example, gay and bisexual men have a skin cancer risk of almost 7%, whereas heterosexual men face a much lower risk, of 3%. Similarly, the likelihood of lesbian and bisexual women suffering from non-melanoma is reduced by a half, compared to straight women.
“There currently aren’t any known public health interventions targeting tanning or skin cancer among these sexual minorities”, explained Aaron Blashill, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the San Diego State University.
According to Blashill, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, the authors’ work is “novel and highly significant”, since it may stimulate further research among these population groups. This would help identify risk factors more accurately, in order to prevent skin cancer more effectively or at least detect it at earlier stages through screening tests.
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