According to a Reuters article California state senator Ted Lieu said:

"If everyone knew the true dangers of tanning beds, they'd be shocked. Skin cancer is a rising epidemic and the leading cause of cancer death for women between 25 and 29."

Edit: I read it wrong... It is just Cancer deaths. I still have difficulty believing that skin cancer is greater danger than leukemia, breast, or colon cancer.

  • I recall reading that it's motor vehicle accidents. Oct 10, 2011 at 13:24
  • @DJClayworth - Well skin cancer is not exactly common and I think it is quite a bit easier to diagnose and treat in most cases. Early onset breast cancer tends to be more agressive and be detected only in later stages which makes it more difficult to treat. I am skeptical as a politician made a blanket statement with no statistics cited as he sought to curb liberties. I am not a teenage girl and have never been in a tanning booth and refuse to even visit california, so it does not affect me. But I still think the statement is probably untrue.
    – Chad
    Oct 10, 2011 at 15:06
  • 1
    :-( I just spent 20 minutes playing with the cool mortality widget from SEER, and came back to write up what I found, with a pretty graph, only to find the question had been thoroughly answered by others. Good job, you spoilsports....
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 11, 2011 at 0:51
  • There is a statistic that says "Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old". And in 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (a subsidiary of the WHO) has classified UV-emitting tanning devices as “carcinogenic to humans”. You can read a news article about it here.
    – Oliver_C
    Oct 11, 2011 at 9:48
  • @Oliver_C I am not saying that tanning beds are good. I am not saying that kids should be allowed to use them. I am saying that the politician made a false statement while trying to justify the governments infringement on liberties.
    – Chad
    Oct 11, 2011 at 14:23

3 Answers 3


The CDC provides data files containing cancer statistics for the US that you can break down a number of ways. I downloaded the 1999-2007 file, took the BYAGE.txt file within it, replaced the tildes with zeroes (which is what they represent), and imported it into Excel (note, if you import into Excel 2003 or lower, you will hit the limit for maximum number of rows, so you'll need to remove some of the rows which are irrelevant for our purposes here).

Putting it into a data table, I applied the following filters:

  • AGE = 25-29
  • EVENT_TYPE = Mortality
  • RACE = All Races
  • SEX = Female

And sorted by rate. You can download my spreadsheet. Having done so, I find that "Melanomas of the Skin" is well down the list. It varies year-by-year, but 9th is most common and the highest it gets it 7th in 2005 and 2007. Data taken from CDC

Now, the results could be different if you're just looking at California, but xiaohouzi79's data suggest otherwise. Another factor is that there are a couple of other types of skin cancer - such as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell cancer - but those are much less fatal than melanomas. Basically, it looks as though Lieu's statement was incorrect.

  • I would stipulate that California could be the one outlier despite the fact that this seems to be pretty consistant through out.
    – Chad
    Oct 11, 2011 at 2:31

This site allows you to explore some statistics (statistics provided are US specific) about different kinds of cancer. If we think about overall cancer death rates for a moment we find the following death rates (all are US deaths per 100,000 people per year, and I'm just quoting women, since that what was asked about).

  • Skin (exclusing basal and squamous) 2.1
  • Leukemia 5.4
  • Breast 24
  • Colon 14.9

So skin looks like its a long way down he list. But now let's look at age, and finding the percentage of deaths at age 20-34 (that's the category the figures give us).

  • Skin 2.2% (0.046 deaths)
  • Leukemia 3.1% (0.16 deaths)
  • Breast 0.9% (0.22 deaths)
  • Colon 0.6% (0.09 deaths)

So it looks as if the stats don't back this up. However there's a few things. First the site I used didn't break deaths down by age and sex. If the deaths by age figures are biased towards women in the 20-34 age range, that might make a difference. Second, the age categories don't correspond exactly with the ones the original quote uses. Third, this is US wide and the figures for California might be very different (easy to imagine there being more skin cancer in California than Minnesota). Fourth we are dealing with very small numbers. There might well be a perfectly sound study that gives the result that Mr Lieu stated.


According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page on US Cancer Statistics: An interactive atlas

The rate of skin cancer deaths for CA is 1.5 and the US national rate is 1.7:

enter image description here

This doesn't even rate compared to other cancers:

enter image description here

What also worth noting and can be accessed from information in the same link; for the same period the rate of incidence (incidence per 100,000 skin cancer in CA) for men is much larger than women:

  • Rate for men: 26.6
  • Rate for women: 15.8
  • Lung cancer the number one killer... don't smoke folks! You're better off laying back and enjoying some California sun, at least it won't kill you.
    – going
    Oct 10, 2011 at 23:02

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