Texas and Poland are miles apart, but cancer prevention advocates and experts from both places worked closely together to reshape health policy and reduce early melanoma risk in young people.
Jeffrey Gershenwald, M.D., professor of Surgical Oncology, and Waldemar Priebe, M.D., professor of Experimental Therapeutics, partnered with several colleagues in Poland in a multidisciplinary effort that significantly contributed to national legislation that restricts indoor tanning use for minors under 18. The new law also requires proof of age before using a solarium – as tanning beds are known there – and limits advertising of the services.
Strong evidence suggests that using a tanning bed during adolescence or young adulthood can increase the risk of melanoma by 75%.
“We worked with melanoma colleagues in Poland and requested data from their cancer registry. Remarkably, we learned that between 2005 and 2015, melanoma rates nearly doubled in women under age 45,” says Gershenwald, medical director of the Ben Love/El Paso Corporation Melanoma and Skin Center at MD Anderson. “From there, we shared significant scientific evidence about the dangers of indoor tanning and the potential impact of public policies aimed at reducing skin cancer risk in youth with the Polish health ministry and other governmental officials and presidential staff.”
The MD Anderson team was recognized for this collaboration by the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, and in November 2017, a bill prohibiting the use of tanning beds by minors was signed into law and will be enacted nationwide in Poland in early 2018.
The Polish law is based on similar legislation that was passed in Texas in 2013. MD Anderson surgical and medical oncologists and behavioral scientists from the Melanoma Moon Shot™, the Governmental Relations department, and the cancer prevention and control platform were instrumental in that accomplishment. They joined advocacy organizations from across the state to educate legislators about the dangers of tanning beds. They’re also partnering with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society which promotes evidence-based policies at all levels of government to improve access to care and quality of life for cancer patients, additional cancer prevention and early detection programs, and increased tobacco regulation.
“Through this partnership, we continue to share lessons learned about the dangers of indoor tanning and engage colleagues and key stakeholders in other states that are considering similar indoor tanning legislation,” Gershenwald says.
Currently, 17 states, including Texas, and the District of Columbia have similar laws prohibiting access to tanning beds for minors, and there are early indicators that this legislation and an ongoing public health campaign are changing behavior.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a significant drop in the use of indoor tanning devices by teenagers in recent years, says Gershenwald, who is a co-leader of the Melanoma Moon Shot.
“If no youth currently aged 14 or younger ever practiced indoor tanning in the U.S. during their lifetime, the CDC estimates more than 200,000 cases of melanoma would be prevented, saving nearly $1.1 billion in treatment costs and more than 458,000 years of life,” Gershenwald says.
Progress in preventing skin cancer
Findings from an MD Anderson study released in 2016 showed that 81% of indoor tanning facilities complied with the Texas ban on indoor tanning for those under the age of 18.
In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration reclassified indoor tanning devices, moving them from low-risk Class I medical devices up to Class II, which means they’re associated with moderate to high risk. It also required tanning products used in salons to carry a visible “black box” warning that reads, “Attention: This sunlamp product should not be used on persons under the age of 18 years.”
And in 2015, the FDA proposed a nationwide ban on the use of indoor tanning beds by anyone under the age of 18.