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Skin Cancer U? Students Tan on Campus at Top Colleges

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America’s top universities may be teaching a dangerous lesson about tanning.

Twelve percent of the nation’s top colleges and universities have tanning beds on campus, and nearly half have them either on campus or in off-campus housing, according to a report published online Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology.

Students can even use “campus cash” debit cards loaded up by parents for tanning at 14 percent of the 125 top colleges and universities compiled by U.S. News & World Report. And when tanning beds were offered in off-campus housing, it was free to tenants 96 percent of the time, the study found.

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Melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer, is on the rise among young people and has become the number one cancer in young adults aged 25 to 29, said lead author Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“It’s one of those cancers that’s actually sneaking up on us. People don’t usually think of skin cancer of being a super prevalent cancer, one to be concerned about, but it really is sneaking up on us, particularly in young people and the reason is because of exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and that includes obviously in tanning salons,” Pagoto told NBC News.

In previous research, Pagoto and others have found that young people aren’t just after tan skin — in fact, tanning can even be addictive.

“Of course they say they love to be tan, but they also say it’s something fun to do, to reduce their stress, to relax particularly in the winter time when it’s so cold — so they’re doing it to warm up, to feel good, something that they’re doing kind of after class to unwind,” Pagoto said.

The Indoor Tanning Association released a statement saying there was "no consensus among researchers regarding the relationship between melanoma skin cancer and UN exposure from the son or a sunbed."

Still, Pagoto hopes to see campuses treat tanning as they do tobacco — banning tanning beds on campus and blocking payment by campus cash cards that parents fill up to pay for books, food and other necessities.

As for off-campus housing? She suggests that schools only endorse apartment complexes without tanning beds, and that parents ask about the amenities made available to students.

“Even if your child isn’t into tanning, if it’s in their apartment and it’s free and all their friends are doing it, it could be a way that they’re getting hooked on it,” she said.

Erika Edwards of NBC News Channel contributed to this report.

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