Study: Gay and bisexual men twice as likely to have skin cancer

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) concluded gay and bisexual men are twice as likely to get skin cancer than heterosexual men. The study, which was reported on Thursday by USA Today, was presented Friday at a meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The study suggests one likely reason for this is the prominence of tanning among gay and bisexual men.

‘The primary reason that men and women engage in indoor tanning is because of the cultural association of tanning with a healthy look and overall attractiveness. We need to dispel the myth of the healthy tan,’ said Sarah Arron, a researcher and associate professor of dermatology at UCSF.

Arron and her team started their study by looking at data from government health surveys conducted in California from 2001 to 2009. The researchers found there were higher rates of skin cancers, including melanoma, among gay and bisexual men. The survey also found that a higher number of gay and bisexual men participate in indoor tanning compared to straight men.

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Conversely, straight women engage in indoor tanning at a higher rate than gay and bisexual women.

The team then looked at national health survey data from 2013, which corroborated the previous findings. Skin cancer was twice as common in gay and bi men (6.6%) than straight men (3.3%). The researchers also found gay and bi men were more likely to tan indoors within the past year (5%) compared to straight men (1.7%). Again gay and bisexual women were less likely to tan than heterosexual women.

While the numbers were startling, they did not surprise everyone including Fred Sainz, the vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign.

‘While unfortunate and alarming, the findings are not at all surprising,’ Sainz said of the numbers. He then goes on say how a tanned appearance is perceived as more youthful and attractive.

Another person who was not surprised by the numbers was an associate director a health program affiliated with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation by the name of Tari Hanneman. She explains the some gay and bisexual men avoid regular check-ups and skin checks due to their fear of discriminatory treatment. She then goes on to explain how LGBT people are also less likely to have health insurance than their straight counterparts.

While surveys from two different time periods showed the same statistics, Arron admits tanning may not be the only reason for the higher number of skin cancer among gay and bi men. She said further studies on the subject would need to look at sun exposure and the effect of preventative measures such as sunscreen on the numbers.

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In the meantime, the study suggests anti-tanning messaging aimed at women needs to be more broad to include men as well. However, Arron says further study would be needed to determine how to effectively craft and target that messaging.