Gay and bisexual men were up to six times more likely than heterosexual men to take part in indoor tanning, and twice as likely to report a history of skin cancer, including non-melanoma and melanoma, according to a study published online in JAMA Dermatology (Oct. 7, 2015).
Conversely, gay and bisexual women were half as likely as heterosexual women to report both indoor tanning and non-melanoma skin cancer, according to the study, led by Dr. Sarah Arron, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of California San Franscisco.
“One likely cause of more skin cancer among gay and bisexual men is greater exposure to ultraviolet radiation caused by indoor tanning,” said Dr. Arron, who also directs the UCSF High Risk Cancer Program. “Many people, especially younger people, associate tanning with health and attractiveness, and unfortunately, that myth has serious consequences.”
The researchers used the data analysis of 192,575 adult men and women—66,677 in California and 125,898 from a national survey. The difference in skin cancer rates persisted even after the investigators controlled for a history of immunosuppression, including HIV infection status. While data on outdoor tanning were unavailable, the authors cited previous studies showing that indoor tanners are also more likely to engage in outdoor tanning.
“Our hope is that this finding will help increase awareness among health care providers that gay and bisexual men constitute a high-risk population for skin cancer, which in turn will lead to increased public health education and more diligent skin cancer screening in this group of men,” Dr. Arron said. “Recent research suggests that, fortunately, screening can increase early detection and decrease mortality from this disease.”
The study is the first to compare skin cancer rates between heterosexual men and gay and bisexual men, and the first to assess skin cancer rates and indoor tanning behaviour by sexual orientation in women, said the authors.