Tanning beds are a common amenity on campuses

(Reuters Health) - About half of the top 125 colleges in a popular annual list offer indoor tanning facilities on campus or in off-campus housing, according to a new study.

In some of the schools, tanning could be paid for with a university cash card, meaning parents may be footing the bill for their kids to bathe in cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation, researchers say.

"It's obviously in no way, shape or form a necessity for a college student and it really just conveys a permissive attitude by the college around tanning, said lead author Sherry L. Pagoto. "It's really important that people begin to realize how serious of a risk that indoor tanning poses," she said.

"Parents should know that melanoma is the number one cancer in young adults and it's growing every year," said Pagoto, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Indoor tanning is a risk factor for skin cancer, she and her colleagues write in JAMA Dermatology. Reducing the availability of indoor tanning on and around college campuses could be an important public health target, they say.

Few cancers are growing in prevalence and most have leveled off or are going down because of advances in prevention and treatment, Pagoto told Reuters Health.

"Skin cancer is one that just continues to grow and grow and particularly in younger adults, and every parent's worst nightmare is having their child get a cancer diagnosis, Pagoto said.

Pagoto and her colleagues used Internet searches and telephone inquiries to determine whether indoor tanning facilities were available at any of the campuses on the U.S. News and World Report list of top colleges and universities for 2013.

They also tracked down local off-campus housing to see how many offered access to tanning beds as enticements to attract student renters. The universities do not own the off-campus housing facilities.

The researchers discovered that indoor tanning was available on campus in 12 percent of colleges and in off-campus housing at 42 percent of colleges. Overall, tanning was available either on or off campus at 48 percent of schools on the list.

They also found that about 14 percent of colleges allowed students to pay for tanning sessions with campus cash cards. Most of the off-campus housing facilities that offered tanning services provided them for free to tenants.

About 27 percent of Midwestern colleges had indoor tanning available on campus, while colleges in the South had the most off-campus housing facilities with indoor tanning at about 68 percent.

"Obviously universities don't have control over what happens off campus, but one thing they can do is to control what happens on campus," Pagoto said.

Lisa Quale, a senior health educator at the Skin Cancer Institute at the University of Arizona Cancer Center said she's glad to see some light is being shed on the issue of tanning beds and college campuses.

"Tanning beds in general are a great health concern, as they are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans, just like cigarettes, " Quale told Reuters Health in an email, adding that tanning salons target young people, including college students.

Any kind of tanning is bad for your skin, Quale said, but indoor tanning may actually be more dangerous than the sun.

"Traditional tanning beds and sun lamps typically give off about three times the UVA rays that are emitted by the sun," she said.

New, high-pressure sunlamps emit doses of both UVA and UVB rays that can be as much as 15 times that of the sun, Quale said.

"Whether you get it outside in the sun or in a tanning bed, you're exposing your skin to UV radiation and UV radiation causes skin cancer," she said.

Quale noted that indoor tanning before age 30 can increase the risk of getting skin cancer by 75 percent.

"Tanning is your skin's action to protect itself from damaging UV radiation given off by tanning beds or the sun," Quale said. "Every time you get a tan, it's your skin telling you that you're hurting it."

Pagoto said that she and her colleagues plan to contact the colleges to tell them about the findings.

"We want to educate them and get it on their radar, and have them to begin to think about tanning like they think about tobacco and like they think about alcohol, and see if they would be willing to change some of their policies," Pagoto said.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1qnmqpN JAMA Dermatology, online October 29, 2014.

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