How having a TAN could be making your endometriosis worse, docs warn

STRIVING for tanned skin could cause or worsen endometriosis, doctors have warned.

The agonising condition affects around one in 10 women, but the causes have baffled scientists.

Researchers led by The University of Arizona College of Public Health looked at around 95,000 women over a period of 14 years.

Those who used tanning beds just three times a year had up to a 30 per cent higher risk of an endometriosis diagnosis.

Serious sunburn, occurring at least once a year, had a 12 per cent increased risk of the condition.

And regular use of sun lotion – an indicator of regularly basking in the sun – increased women's odds by 10 per cent.

But strangely, the research also found women who lived in sunnier places were less likely to get diagnosed.

This may be because natural sunlight is mostly made of UVB rays, which boost levels of vitamin D, which helps with immunity and inflammation.

Meanwhile, tanning beds pump UVA rays, known to cause DNA damage and inflammation.

The picture remains unclear, however this is the first study to investigate sun exposure and endometriosis, published in the medical journal Human Reproduction.

Professor Stacey Missmer, a co-lead author of the study from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, said: "We know very little about ways to modify behaviour in order to reduce risk of developing endometriosis.

"However, our findings suggest that avoiding excessive recreational sun exposure and tanning beds may reduce your endometriosis risk."

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition where cells similar to those that line the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Each month these cells react in the same way to those in the womb, building up and then breaking down and bleeding. But the blood has no way to escape the body.

Symptoms include lower stomach, back or pelvic pain, severe period pain and pain during or after sex.

The incurable condition can make it difficult to get pregnant.

Celebrities such as singer Dolly Parton and journalist Emma Barnett have previously spoken out about their experiences with the condition.

Previous research has suggested that women with endometriosis are more likely to develop skin cancer.

Professor Leslie Farland, leader of the research, said: "While the exact mechanisms underlying the association between endometriosis and melanoma are not known, several studies have found a greater risk of endometriosis in women who are sensitive to sunlight, don't tan easily and have red hair, light eyes, freckling or a high number of moles.

"These associations may reflect a common genetic background between endometriosis and melanoma [skin cancer] or an underlying association between sun exposure and risk of endometriosis."

Endometriosis increases with sunbed use

The researchers studied women who joined the US Nurses' Health Study II in 1989 when they were aged between 25 and 42 years.

Every two years, up until 2015, the participants completed questionnaires about their tanning habits.

From 1993 onwards, the women were also asked whether they had endometriosis, diagnosed by laparoscopy.

Researchers restricted the analysis to white women, because there are known differences in diagnoses rates between ethnicity, and how the skin reacts to sunlight.


Are sunbeds bad for you?

According to the World Health Organisation, sunbeds are as dangerous as smoking.

Like the sun, they give out harmful UV rays, that damage the DNA in your skin cells – which over time, can lead to malignant melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer.

While some people think tanning beds are safer than sitting out in the midday sun, according to Cancer Research, one study has revealed that the risk of cancer from sunbeds more than doubles when compared to spending the same amount of time in the Mediterranean sun at lunch time.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), there is significant evidence to show that using tanning beds causes melanoma.

They report that sunbeds increase the risk of skin cancer by up to 20 per cent, and also state that they have no positive benefits to our health.

Some people are more at risk than others, with the NHS reporting that you should not use sun beds, sunlamps or tanning booths if you:

  • have fair or sensitive skin
  • have a history of sunburn (especially in childhood)
  • have red hair and freckles
  • have lots of moles
  • are taking any creams or medication that could increase your skin's sensitivity to sunlight
  • have a medical condition that can be made worse by sunlight
  • have had skin cancer previously
  • already have sun burn

The Sun's Fabulous Dying For A Tan campaign raises awareness of the dangers associated with sunbed use.

Among 95,080 women, five per cent (4,791) were diagnosed with endometriosis over the follow-up period.

Researchers found that compared to women who never used tanning beds, those who used them six or more times a year when they were teenagers and young adults had a 19 per cent increased risk of endometriosis.

This jumped up to 24 per cent if women used sunbeds six times a year between the ages of 25 and 35.

If they used tanning beds three or more times a year throughout both periods of their lives, they had a 30 per cent increased risk of the condition.

This means that around five women in every 100 might develop endometriosis over an average follow-up period of nearly 14 years per person if they had never used tanning beds.

But nearly seven women in 100 would develop it if they used tanning beds more than three times a year.

Women who reported sunburn at least five times or more between the ages of 15 and 20 had a 12 per cent greater risk of endometriosis compared to women who were never sunburnt.

Compared to those who never used sunscreen, those who used it all the time had a 10 per cent increased risk of endometriosis.

Prof Farland said: "From a public health perspective, we already know women should avoid tanning beds to reduce their risk of melanoma.

"This study reinforces the advice to avoid using tanning beds and suggests that there may be an additional benefit of reducing the risk of endometriosis.

"Women should follow the health advice never to use tanning beds, to avoid being sunburnt, and to protect your skin from exposure to the sun by covering up, seeking the shade, and by using a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen."

The benefit of Vitamin D

In the study, the women's home addresses were updated every two years and were linked with data on UV rays for that area.

Findings show women who lived in the sunniest parts of America were less likely to be diagnosed than those who saw less sunlight.

Living in sunny areas, typically in the south, at birth, age 15 and age 30, had a 19 per cent, 21 per cent and 10 per cent reduced risk of endometriosis, respectively.

Four women in 100 might develop endometriosis if they lived in sunny parts of the US at the age of 15 compared to nearly six in 100 in the gloomier parts.

Prolonged exposure to UV rays in any form is warned against because it could lead to skin cancer.

However, around natural sunlight contains around five per cent UVB rays, while sunlamps contain only UVA rays.

UVB rays – which also burn the skin – prompts the production of vitamin D.

The 'sunshine vitamin' is good for you, and leads to better immunity and possibly the suppression of inflammation.

Tanning salons are mainly UVA rays, which are known to damage cells and adversely affect immunity.

The researchers suggested this may be why women who are exposed to more natural daylight have lower rates of endometriosis.

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