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Concern over ‘tanning addicts’

The dangers of tanning and its potential to lead to addictive behaviour have been reiterated by an international expert.

According to David Fisher, who spoke to The Royal Gazette as Bermuda marked Melanoma Awareness Month, research has shown that tanning can elevate endorphin levels.

And with skin cancer incidence continuing to climb in the United States, Dr Fisher said it was possible that subconscious “sun-seeking” behaviours may be part of the challenge in avoiding sun exposure.

“It was shown several years ago that a ‘byproduct' of the tanning pathway is synthesis of beta-endorphin by skin,” said Dr Fisher, the director of the Melanoma Programme at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre.

“This was shown to be capable of elevating endorphin levels in blood and produce opiate-like behaviours (including addiction-related ones) in experimental systems. We think it is likely that this effect, which was absent in animals where the beta-endorphin gene had been engineered to be missing, likely explains key underlying mechanisms of tanning and addictive behaviour.”

According to Dr Fisher, non-melanoma forms of skin cancer are the most common malignancies in the US and melanoma forms are among the cancers whose incidence is rising most steeply.

“The fact that these skin cancers remain so common — despite the broad knowledge of sun risk — suggests that part of the challenge in avoiding sun exposure may involve subconscious ‘sun-seeking' behaviours, due to endorphin effects,” he said.

He added “it is likely that any person would be vulnerable to this type of addictive response”.

But Dr Fisher also noted that certain demographics, particularly young people, who are more prone to addictive behaviours, may be more at risk.

“We believe that education remains essential,” he added. “Avoidance of direct sunlight, use of sunscreen (broad spectrum), seeking shade, wearing UV-protective clothing and hats, reapplying sunscreen, are all valuable methods to minimise skin cancer risk.”

He added that tanning was a sign of skin damage, with the pigment response a type of “defence” mechanism to partially protect against further UV exposure.

“It is also notable that the same effects of UV on our skin also trigger damage that produces accelerated skin ageing.

“Wrinkles, sunspots, and other solar damage to skin, are clearly observed in people whose sun protection behaviours are not optimal.

“Skin injury signs that should trigger a doctor's evaluation include the presence of new or changing pigmented lesions on skin, bleeding, pain, or irritation that is not explained, or any of these changes occurring within individuals with personal or family histories of skin cancer.”

Dr David Fisher

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Published May 11, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 11, 2017 at 8:20 am)

Concern over ‘tanning addicts’

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