Cancer group calls for FDA crackdown on tanning beds

The American Cancer Society (ACS) is urging federal officials to "impose greater control" over the manufacture and distribution of tanning beds, citing an elevated risk of cancer from their use.

In a letter Thursday, the ACS charged Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with ignoring the advice of an advisory panel that recommended action against tanning beds two years ago.

"Indoor tanning beds are not safe and not appropriately regulated," ACS Deputy Chief Medical Officer Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., wrote to Sebelius.

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"Sunlamps used for tanning are currently regulated by FDA as Class I medical devices. This classification is reserved for the lowest risk products such as tongue depressors and bandages and is inappropriate for a product that has been elevated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to its highest cancer risk category – 'carcinogenic to humans.'"

Lichtenfeld urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reclassify tanning beds to reflect what scientists see as a link between the devices and skin cancer.

The letter was co-signed by American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network President Christopher Hansen.

"Using a tanning bed increases the risk of two types of skin cancer, squamous and basal cell carcinomas, by 67 percent and 29 percent respectively," they wrote.

"For melanoma, the risk is even higher, with a 75 percent increased risk when first use [of a tanning bed] is prior to age 35."

Research endorsed by the World Health Organization's cancer arm in 2009 found that the risk of skin cancer jumps 75 percent in people who begin to use tanning beds before age 30.

That year, the IARC placed tanning beds in the top cancer-risk category, next to arsenic and mustard gas.

Tanning-bed makers argue that no link between their products and deadly cancers has been proven.

Advocates for the industry also point out that the IARC's Group-1 carcinogen list includes "salted fish, Chinese-style" and birth control pills, which have been linked to increased risk of breast, cervical and liver cancers.