A new study found that gay and bisexual men in the United States are twice as likely as heterosexual men to get skin cancer.
The study suggests that anti-tanning messages, which tend to be aimed at young women, need to be broader.
The cultural association of tanning with a healthy look and overall attractiveness is a primary reason why men and women participate in indoor tanning.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, tanning in either the sun or in a tanning bed can cause skin cancer including melanoma, the most dangerous kind.
Researchers looked at data from government health surveys conducted in California between 2001 and 2009. The surveys found elevated rates of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer among gay and bisexual men but not gay and bisexual women.
Researchers also found that gay and bisexual men in California were much more likely to engage in indoor tanning than straight men were.
Gay and bisexual women in California were less likely than straight women to tan indoors.
Afterwards, researchers looked at national health survey data for 2013 and had similar findings. A history of skin cancer was twice as common in gay and bisexual men as in straight men, 6.6% versus 3.3%. Around 5% of gay and bisexual men said they had engaged in indoor tanning in the past year versus 1.7% of straight men. Gay and bisexual women were again less likely to report indoor tanning than straight women.
Although these findings are unfortunate and alarming, they are not all that surprising. Tanning is perceived as youthful and attractive by many gay men.
Researchers do assert that indoor tanning may not be solely responsible for the increased skin cancer risk in gay and bisexual men.
Follow-up studies should look at sun exposure and use of sunscreen and other protective measure to fully determine what prevention messages are needed.