WASHINGTON - Just as millions head to tanning beds to prepare for spring break, the Food and Drug Administration will be debating how to toughen warnings that those sunlamps pose a cancer risk.
Yes, sunburns are particularly dangerous. But there's increasing scientific consensus that there's no such thing as a safe tan, either.
This is a message that Katie Donnar, 18, dismissed until a year ago when, preparing for the Miss Indiana pageant, she discovered a growth on her leg: an early-stage melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
She can't prove tanning beds are to blame, but started using them as a sixth-grade cheerleader, about every other day, and at one point even owned one.
"It seemed somewhat of a myth that I was putting myself at risk," says Donnar, of Bruceville, Ind. "The warning label was so small, nothing to make me stop and think, 'This is real.' "
Last summer, the World Health Organization's cancer division listed tanning beds as definitive cancer-causers, along with the ultraviolet radiation both they and the sun emit. An analysis of numerous studies had concluded the risk of melanoma jumps by 75 percent in people who used tanning beds in their teens and 20s.
Next comes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has long regulated tanning beds as "Class I devices," a category of low-risk medical devices that includes bandages. The FDA decided warning labels aren't visible enough and don't fully convey the risk, especially to the young.
So in March, the FDA's scientific advisers will open a public hearing to explore stricter tanning bed regulation, both stiffer warnings and reclassifying them to allow other steps.
The Indoor Tanning Association argues there's no new science to justify increased FDA regulation. Any risk is to people who overdo it, says ITA president Dan Humiston, arguing that's easier to do in the sun.