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Tanning Beds Cause $343 Million in Medical Bills a Year

A new study has calculated the steep cost of a not-so-healthy glow

(Miran Rijavec/Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

Numerous studies have shown that tanning beds are basically indoor cancer caves; they emit UV-A rays that damage skin cells and have been definitively labeled as a cause of several skin cancers. In spite of the known risks, Americans continue to seek out a not-so-healthy glow. Thirty-five percent of adults and 17 percent of teens have reported using a tanning bed in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

The pursuit of beachy skin not only puts lives at risk, but also results in steep economic losses. As George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo, a recent study has estimated that healthcare costs associated with skin cancer from tanning beds amounted to $343.1 million in 2015 alone.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Cancer Policy, began by looking at the total number of reported skin cancer cases in 2015, then estimated how many of those cases could be tied to indoor tanning, Megan Thielking explains in STAT. Researchers estimated that 263,000 cases of skin cancer in 2015—and 1,200 deaths—could be attributed to tanning beds. They calculated, based on average annual costs of treating skin cancer patients, that these cases resulted in $343.1 million in healthcare costs, Dvorsky writes in Gizmodo.

As high as these numbers seem, they are modest estimates. There is no national registry for skin cancers associated with indoor tanning, and cases of the disease are likely underreported. And researchers did not factor in the cost of doctor's visits and treatments for skin cancer survivors, or the cost of treating subsequent diseases in skin cancer patients, who are more likely to develop other types of cancer than the general population.

The FDA has taken a number of steps to curb tanning bed use. In 2014, the agency classified tanning beds as “moderate risk products,” and required that all devices be stamped with a warning. The Obama administration also tried to address the problem in 2012 by including a ten percent excise tax on indoor tanning services within the Affordable Care Act.

But, as Dvosky points out, “[t]he word is clearly not getting out about the risks of indoor tanning.” The Journal of Cancer Policy study confirms the need for an education campaign, providing further evidence that tanned skin comes at a cost.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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