GALVESTON, Texas -- Drop by any beach or swimming pool on a summer day,and you'll probably see people doing something they know is bad forthem: getting a tan.
Studies show that many of those who regularly tan know that exposure tothe ultraviolet rays of the sun or a tanning booth increases their riskof developing skin cancer. But -- much to the dismay of dermatologists,who have spent years trying to educate the public on the skin-cancerdangers of ultraviolet radiation -- this knowledge doesn't seem to havemuch effect on their behavior, and the incidence of skin cancercontinues to rise.
Now, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galvestonhave found evidence that could explain why people continue to sunbatheand patronize tanning salons despite being aware that the practice isdangerous. Using criteria adapted from those used to screen foralcoholism and drug dependency, they've determined that repetitivetanning behavior may be the product of a kind of addiction.
"Dermatologists often talk about people who seem 'addicted to the sun'-- people who know it's not good for them to be bronzed all the time,but don't seem to be able to stop tanning," said UTMB professor RichardWagner, senior author of the study, which was co-authored by Molly M.Warthan and Tatsuo Uchida and will be published online in the Archivesof Dermatology Aug. 15. "It's interesting that by slightly modifyingtools used to identify substance-related disorders, we can actually seean objective similarity between regular tanning and those disorders."
Wagner and Warthan asked 145 Galveston beachgoers a series ofquestions such as, "Do you try to cut down on the time you spend in thesun, but find yourself still suntanning?" and, "Do you think you needto spend more and more time in the sun to maintain your perfect tan?"The interviews were divided into two parts, with four initial yes-or-noqueries derived from those used in a standard four-question survey usedto identify alcohol abuse or dependence. Seven others were based on theseven diagnostic criteria for substance-related disorders in theAmerican Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ofMental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).
Under criteria adapted from the alcoholism-screening questionnaire(known as the CAGE, an acronym for Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty,Eye-opener), 26 percent of those interviewed were classified as"ultraviolet light (UVL) tanning dependent." The DSM-IV criteriaindicated an even greater proportion of beachgoers with UVL tanningdependence -- 53 percent.
"This is a new idea, and we didn't know how it would turn out,although there has been mixed evidence from other studies suggestingthat tanning increases endorphin production, which could be addictive,"Wagner said. "Certainly this could explain why educationalinterventions haven't been more successful."
For more information or to schedulean interview request a digital photo or arrange a taped or livetelevision interview via UTMB's satellite services, please call themedia hotline.
Materials provided by University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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