Italian researchers have released a controversial report suggesting that, despite the fact that tanning beds have been associated with an increased risk of skin cancer, they might actually reduce the risk of other cancers such as malignant mesothelioma.
In an article in the journal Advances in Clinical Chemistry, researchers from the University of Verona and the Academic Hospital of Parma are calling for large, randomized studies to “establish whether the unfavorable effects of indoor tanning exposure on skin cancers may be outweighed by the still unexplored benefits attributable to amelioration of vitamin D status.”
The Connection Between Vitamin D and Mesothelioma
A number of studies have already documented a strong association between levels of vitamin D in the blood serum and the risk of developing certain types of cancer. The connection is especially evident in colorectal, breast, bladder, kidney and lung cancer, a cancer that shares many common characteristics with pleural mesothelioma.
According to the Italian scientists, both genomic and nongenomic mechanisms have been identified that help explain the link between vitamin D and cancers like malignant mesothelioma.
As it turns out, tanning beds, which emit UVB light to darken the skin, can dramatically increase vitamin D levels.
“UVB radiation emitted from indoor tanning devices is effective to linearly increase the serum vitamin D concentration, up to twofold,” writes Giuseppe Lippi, author of the report which refers to tanning beds a “Gians Bifrons” – a two-headed god from mythology.
In fact, a 2014 Swedish study found that, not only might UVB exposure reduce the risk of death from cancer, but it also appears to reduce the chances of dying from any cause.
“The mortality rate amongst avoiders of sun exposure was approximately twofold higher compared with the highest sun exposure group,” wrote author Pelle Lindqvist of the Karolinska Institute in the Journal of Internal Medicine.
Should You Tan if You Are at Risk for Mesothelioma?
The short answer is, no. There is not yet enough evidence that the known risks of UVB exposure inside a tanning bed can be outweighed by a reduced risk of mesothelioma.
However, the current study does suggest that it would be wise to “stay tuned” as the science on vitamin D, sun exposure, and cancer risk evolves.
In the meantime, if you have been exposed to asbestos, the primary cause of mesothelioma, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of dying from this aggressive cancer.
- Know the symptoms of mesothelioma and do not ignore them
- Have regular physical exams to monitor for early signs of mesothelioma
- Keep your immunity strong with a healthy lifestyle, including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- If you smoke, stop. Smoking has been linked to increased risk and poorer mesothelioma outcomes in asbestos-exposed people.
- Talk to your doctor about screening CT
Malignant mesothelioma impacts about 2,500 new patients each year in the US, despite decades of heavy regulation of the asbestos industry. Although new treatments, including several types of immunotherapy drugs, are in development, there is currently no cure for mesothelioma.
Lippi, G, et al, “Indoor Tanning a Gianus Bifrons: Vitamin D and Human Cancer”, December 8, 2017, Advances in Clinical Chemistry, Epub ahead of print
Lindqvist, PG, at all, “Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for all-cause mortality: Results from the MISS cohort”, April 2014, Journal of Internal Medicine