The provincial government is working on developing new rules to regulate the use of tanning beds, as new data from the Canadian Cancer Society suggests melanoma rates are soaring.
According to the organization, about 570 Albertans will be diagnosed with melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — this year. UV rays are behind up to 90 per cent of melanoma cases in Canada, and one of the main sources of excess UV radiation is the use of indoor tanning beds, which are not regulated in Alberta.
"We now know that there is a greater number of skin cancers triggered by tanning bed use than there are the number of lung cancers triggered by cigarette smoking," said Andrei Metilitsa, a Calgary dermatologist.
Nearly one in three 17-year-old girls in Alberta have used indoor tanning equipment.
Of Alberta youth who have tanned indoors, most say they started when they were 15 or younger, says the Canadian Cancer Society.
"I didn't think that I could get cancer in my 20s. I didn't think that I had put myself at risk for it," said Becky Lynn, who started using tanning beds at 16 and was diagnosed with Stage 1 melanoma 20 years ago. "They took about the size of my fist out of my leg and I had about a four or five inch incision ... it was horribly upsetting and very scary."
Death rates also on the rise
It's not just the cases of melanoma diagnosis that are increasing — death rates are too.
The death rate for Canadian men has increased 30 per cent since 1986.
For women, the death rate has increased by 10 per cent.
"The most striking part of that is melanoma is largely preventable, almost 100 per cent preventable," says Evie Eshpeter, a public policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society who is calling for a ban on tanning beds "By eliminating this exposure route, we feel like we could have a significant impact on incidence rates."
Alberta is planning to introduce tanning bed legislation soon but there's no date for when that will be debated by MLAs..
Currently, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only provinces not regulating youth access to indoor tanning beds.
More than 20 countries around the world have regulation in place limiting the use of tanning beds for those under the age of 18.
By 2015, Australia will have a total ban on all indoor tanning beds in commercial premises.
Brazil already has that ban in place.