(NaturalNews) The media have widely exaggerated the skin cancer risks of tanning beds says Ivan Oransky, editor of Reuters Health and treasurer of the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), writing on the AHCJ blog Covering Health.
Oransky notes that in honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a number of skin cancer groups have issued press releases warning that, in the words of the World Health Organization, "use of sunbeds before the age of 35 is associated with a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma." Concern over this statistic was a factor in a new Delaware law limiting access to tanning beds by teenagers.
In an article for Wilmington's News Journal, AHCJ member Hiran Ratnayake reviewed the research that led to the oft-quoted statistic off 75 percent increased risk. He found that a review of research from a number of different studies did indeed find an average 75 percent increase in those who used tanning beds. But the original risk was so low (roughly two-tenths of 1 percent) that even a 75 percent increase means a final risk still well under 1 percent.
"Melanoma is pretty rare," said internist Lisa Schwartz of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., "and almost all the time, the way to make it look scarier is to present the relative change, the 75 percent increase, rather than to point out that it is still really rare."
According to Oransky, citing relative rather than absolute risk is a common way that doctors, pharmaceutical companies and the media try to make consumers think they are at higher risk of a disease than they really are.
"When you read a study that says something doubles the risk of some terrible disease, ask: Doubles from what to what?" he writes.
"This is not an argument for or against tanning beds. It's an argument for clear explanations of the data behind policy decisions."