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Expert: Tanning Beds Major Part Of Increased Skin Cancer Rates

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — New data from the Health Department shows skin cancer is on the rise in Minnesota. Melanoma rates rapidly increased from 2005 to 2009.

The new data shows melanoma skin cancer increased by 38 percent for women during that time, and 35 percent for men.

Doctors say it is a combination of a lot of things, but over-exposure to the sun and tanning beds are a big part of the increase.

“I do go tanning. I actually used to work in a tanning salon. But I feel like just to keep a little bit of color in your skin isn’t horrible for you,” said Rachel Fuller.

The American Suntanning Association feels the same way. In fact, they say research done by health care providers is flawed. They accuse researchers of going so far as intentionally burning patients in tanning beds.

“If you read the rebuttals from physicians, they say it is complete hogwash,” said Dr. Barbara Benjamin.

Benjamin works for Fairview Clinics and treats people for skin cancer. She’s not surprised by the Department of Health’s findings and she says tanning bed exposure, particularly in young people, is to blame.

“It’s been recognized as a carcinogen in humans by the FDA. It’s like smoking,” said Benjamin.

Benjamin said the American Suntanning Association has an economic bias, and in her eyes, even a small amount of exposure is too much.

“As physicians, we aren’t trying to induce cancer in any of our patients. We are trying to prevent it. In my mind, we should ban tanning beds,” said Benjamin.

The American Suntanning Association did not return calls from WCCO-TV Wednesday.

However, a recent article in MedPage Today suggests that some physicians have referred patients to tanning beds for therapeutic reasons. But Dr. Benjamin is obviously not one of those doctors.

Benjamin says the number of teenagers developing skin cancer is alarming to her. It’s not just tanning beds, too. She thinks consistent skin exposure even in Minnesota, can have long-term consequences.

UPDATE: ASA responds to MedPage’s article.

“Mis-statements in this story only underscore ASA’s main point: That it’s time for a higher-level discussion about UV exposure from the sun and from sunbeds,” said ASA Board Member Doug McNabb. “ASA never published nor implied that researchers intentionally sunburn subjects. Sunburn is a common occurrence with phototherapy treatments as evidenced by the literature regarding equipment as part of the treatment protocol. We’re simply pointing out that phototherapy treatments are often promoted as ‘safe’ — there appears to be a double-standard addressing the safety of UV exposure.”

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