Alberta falling behind on preventing skin cancer

30 September 2013

Edmonton -

The Canadian Cancer Society is pleased to see a report released today that highlights the role that all levels of government play in preventing cancer; however, usage rates of indoor tanning machines was an important piece of information missing from this document.

The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s report Population Health in Canada’s Largest Cities ranks and compares 20 Canadian municipalities – including Calgary and Edmonton – on several cancer prevention indicators such as smoking prevalence, second-hand smoke exposure, healthy diet, physical activity and weight. The report briefly acknowledges that using indoor tanning machines increases the risk of skin cancer but ultimately did not factor this into the ranking system.

“While it’s important to acknowledge the support of municipalities is a crucial component of cancer prevention, decisions made by the provincial government directly impacts how prevalent cancer risks are at the municipal level,” says Angeline Webb of the Canadian Cancer Society. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that Alberta has one of the highest rates of indoor tanning use in Canada – something that would negatively affect the rankings of Calgary and Edmonton had such data been included in this report. Alberta is lagging behind on protecting young people from an increased risk of skin cancer. Indoor tanning must be treated the same way as tobacco – with ample education and policies that protect kids from harm.”

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario are the only provinces in Canada that do not regulate youth access to indoor tanning equipment. However, a number of municipalities in Ontario have forged ahead to address this issue locally and the Ontario government is now proceeding to fast track a bill early this week that will ban youth under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning machines.

One in three 17-year-old girls in Alberta have used indoor tanning equipment. Of those Alberta teens who have tanned indoors, two-thirds report having started before the age of 16. Research shows that using indoor tanning equipment before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 per cent. Melanoma – the most aggressive and dangerous form of skin cancer – is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in youth between the ages of 15 and 29.

“The pressure to conform to an esthetic ideal can make indoor tanning very appealing to teens,” says Webb. “But exposure to UV radiation through indoor tanning machines is a significant and highly preventable cancer risk. So why is the government delaying the opportunity to reduce cancer incidence in Alberta youth?”

Alberta Health conducted a literature review on the evidence regarding youth and indoor tanning and consulted a scientific review panel in the spring of 2012. That panel completed its work over a year ago but the government has yet to release any of its findings or make any public announcements about this important health issue.

Members of the health community are eager to know if and when the government plans on taking action.

“Young people are particularly vulnerable to the risks associated with indoor tanning because their skin is more susceptible to UV damage,” explains dermatologist Dr Mike Kalisiak. “The younger the age of overexposure to UV damage, the greater the chance of developing skin cancer, such as melanoma. Few teens understand or acknowledge that the damaging effects tanning has on their skin will not fade away over time.”

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada despite being one of the most preventable forms of the disease.

“The Canadian Cancer Society is committed to raising awareness through public education campaigns, but that’s not enough,” says Webb. “We need comprehensive legislation that bans minors from accessing indoor tanning equipment. We are encouraged to see Ontario quickly working to address this issue and hope to see action in Alberta soon.”

About the Canadian Cancer Society

For 75 years, the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the fight for life. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research and support Canadians touched by cancer. We are working together with Canadians to change cancer forever so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY: 1-866-786-3934).

The Canadian Cancer Society is a member of Indoor Tanning is Out, a coalition of provincial and national health organizations seeking to decrease the incidence of skin cancer caused by tanning bed use in Alberta. Learn more at www.thebigburn.ca.

For more information, please contact:

Paula Trotter

Communications Coordinator

Phone: 403-541-2339