Gay, Bisexual Men Report Higher Rates Of Indoor Tanning And Skin Cancer Compared To Heterosexual Men

Indoor Tanning
A man lies on a tanning bed as he begins a session at a tanning salon. REUTERS/Nir Elias

While new research has shown that indoor tanning rates across the United States have continued to drop in recent years, millions of Americans still increase their risk for skin cancer by stepping into these carcinogen-emitting tanning beds. However, a recent study conducted by researchers from UC San Francisco has found that gay and bisexual men are significantly more likely to report a history of indoor tanning and, subsequently, skin cancer compared to heterosexual men.

"One likely cause of more skin cancer among gay and bisexual men is greater exposure to ultraviolet radiation caused by indoor tanning," said Dr. Sarah Arron, a UCSF associate professor of dermatology, in a statement. "Many people, especially younger people, associate tanning with health and attractiveness, and unfortunately, that myth has serious consequences."

Arron and her colleagues analyzed data from 192,575 adult men and women, including 66,677 from the 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2009 California Health Interview Surveys and 125,898 from the 2013 Adult National Health Interview Survey. Although the research team lacked data on outdoor tanning, they pulled from previous studies showing that people who are willing to indoor tan are also likely to outdoor tan. They also controlled for a history of immunosuppression, including HIV infection status.

Gay and bisexual men were up to six times more likely to report a history of indoor tanning and twice as likely to report the development of skin cancer, including non-melanoma and melanoma, compared to heterosexual men. Gay and bisexual women, on the other hand, were half as likely to report a history of indoor tanning and non-melanoma skin cancer compared to heterosexual women.

"Our hope is that this finding will help increase awareness among health care providers that gay and bisexual men constitute a high-risk population for skin cancer, which in turn will lead to increased public health education and more diligent skin cancer screening in this group of men," Arron added. "Recent research suggests that, fortunately, screening can increase early detection and decrease mortality from this disease."

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer in the U.S. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted from sunlight or tanning beds is considered one of the top risk factors associated with skin cancer. Despite the known dangers that have been linked to indoor tanning beds, some of the major universities around the country offer several tanning facilities within close proximity to campus.

Source: Mansh M, Katz K, Linos E, Chren M, Arron S. Association of Skin Cancer and Indoor Tanning in Sexual Minority Men and Women. JAMA Dermatology. 2015.

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