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Is a suntan worth skin cancer?

14 May 2014

In a report released today, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin (APPGS) outline their recommendations to the Department of Health on extending sunbed regulation.

The report comes at a time when rates of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, are five times higher in the UK than they were in the 1970s. According to Cancer Research UK, the dramatic rise can be attributed partly to the rise of package holidays, the fashion for a ‘healthy’ tan, and a boom in sunbed use.

Increased rates of melanoma

Cancer Research states that sunbed use raises the chance of developing a melanoma by nearly 59 per cent in first-time users under the age of 35. According to an article published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2012, among those who had ever used a sunbed and were diagnosed between 18-29 years of age, three quarters (76 per cent) of melanomas were attributable to sunbed use. The World Health Organisation lists sunbeds as a Group 1 carcinogen, the same classification given to tobacco.

The link between the use of sunbeds and skin cancer forms part of the APPGS enquiry. Gary Lipman, chairman of The Sunbed Association (which represents 20 per cent of the industry), refutes that sunbed use is linked with increased risk of malignant melanoma. However, the majority of the other members of the inquiry believe that there is a proven link:

‘Sunbeds have been shown to increase the risk of malignant melanoma (Boniol et al, 2012), basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (Wehner et al, 2012). Use in childhood and young adulthood particularly increases the risk of skin cancer (Boniol et al, 2012, Autier et al, 2008).’

While the cause for the rise in melanoma rates is attributed to varying sources of UV light, sunbeds are one of the most easily regulated factors in the equation.


Greater regulation

The APPGS’s core recommendations are for greater sunbed regulation in England. As advised by the British Association of Dermatologists, this would include compliance testing for radiant exposure, a ban on unstaffed tanning facilities, screening of customers’ skin, provision of balanced health information and provision of safety goggles.

While the recommendations would help to mitigate unnecessary skin cancer risk, without a licensing system, these new proposals could be difficult to enforce. At present, tanning salons are licensed in Wales, Scotland and London. Elsewhere, councils struggle to ensure operators are using safe equipment. They also face problems trying to enforce the age limit of 18, because children are able to access unmanned coin-operated booths. Unmanned sunbeds are banned in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but not in England.

A variety of tanning options exist throughout England – from proficient, high street businesses to coin-operated booths in the back of nail salons, spas and hairdressers. The lack of licensing means it is hard for local councils to clamp down on operators that break the current rules, so licensing powers would give local authorities more flexibility to deal with poor practice. A 2009 survey of local authorities suggested that the majority would welcome the introduction of mandatory licensing of sunbed outlets.

Case study: Liverpool City Council

Liverpool City Council have again raised this concern today, and called for licensing powers to try to cut down on the number of people being diagnosed with skin cancer. The city has some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the country, and sunbed use is much higher than the UK average. Since 2000, the council says the number of cases of skin cancer among women in Liverpool has risen by 129 per cent, more than double the UK average.

The reversal of the north-south latitude trend

Traditionally, melanoma incidence has shown a well-established increase from north to south in England and other northern countries. This is because solar UV levels are highly dependent on latitude of residence. Melanoma has also predominantly affected white, affluent populations.

However, a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology in June last year showed that between 1996 and 2006, there had been a reversal of north-south latitude trends among the young female population. Incidence of melanoma was particularly high among young people in northern regions, and particularly among moderately deprived female subjects. The advent of budget holidays and the increased accessibility of sunbeds were cited in the study as the most likely explanation for the reversal in the north-south latitude gradient.

In northern English cities, where levels of poverty are more acute, the belief that a tan signifies success and wealth has become widespread. The prevalence of ‘perma-tanned’ celebrity figures has contributed to this idea. But as cities like Liverpool have found, the popularity for tanned skin can come with a significant health risk.

The Department of Health would be wise to introduce APPGS’s recommendations. However, without the implementation of a new system of local authority licensing, the recommendations may prove hard to enforce.

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  • Sol

    The truth is the “experts” don’t really know what the rise in skin cancer is from and won’t admit that over diagnosis is creating an issue. They then just “assume” it is vacations and sunbeds, in which sunbed use is at an all time low. There are so many other environmental and lifestyle issues that could be a problem and now some researchers are looking into these instead of taking the easy road and blaming the sun or sunbeds. Melanoma is a complex disease and too many are ready to jump on the anti-UV campaign. Like anything in life moderation is the key and a healthy lifestyle which includes some sun exposure for natural vitamin D is very important.

  • Mark Carter

    Sunbeds cause just under 100 deaths a year from melanoma and 440 people are diagnosed with skin cancer from them according to stats from Cancer Research UK . People need to realise that skin cancer is not just something you can cut out and it is gone. If you get Squamous Cell or Basal Cell Carcinoma then yes it can be cut out and you may be scarred but you will be cured. If you get melanoma it can spread through your lymph and blood system to all your major organs and ultimately kill you as there is still no known cure. Early diagnosis is crucial to surviving melanoma so check your moles for changes regularly and report to your GP if you notice any changes. A melanoma diagnosis is like the Mafia once you are in there is no getting out. It can come back, weeks, months or years later, mine came back 13.5 years after my cancerous mole was removed and I am now stage IV which is terminal. A few simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference, avoid sunbeds, they are not healthy and age your skin. And include a sun safety regimen into your daily lives. If you follw these simple steps you can avoid ever having to face the fear and anxiety of a melanoma diagnosis. We are a fair skinned race and should learn to love the skin we are in. If you wan’t to look tanned then the best way is to get it out of a bottle The cost to the NHS of skin cancer treatments is astronomical, mine costs a whopping£70,000 per infusion. Just ban the damn things

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “So where did you get your tan, luv?”
    “Oh that, my boy friend took me to Bali.”
    As you roam third-world Asia during the north European winter, you realise the highest priority of young White women is to get a tan as quickly as possible. Which is why, as they have limited time available, they tend to rush it. Often with disastrous consequences. Ancient Brits on the other hand, out of England for the entire winter, say four months, keep out of the sun. So when the choice is inside or out, they tend to select the inside table.
    Jack, Japan Alps

  • transponder

    Living in the subtropics all year round, I learned long ago that the sun always finds you. The trick is to stay OUT of it, not to seek it. If you get melanoma, as my very fair-skinned f-in-law did, and you don’t observe sun-avoidance religiously, as he didn’t, they end up having to carve dark discs out of your facial skin every so often. I wondered what on earth was going through his mind, if anything. Ultraviolet radiation is a killer, and sure enough he was dead from other (but who knows how related?) causes within a very short time. He was a shrugger, but I am not. I rarely venture out without a hat, I wear sunglasses on bright days, and I wear sunblock on every day when it isn’t raining all day.

  • Alex

    Lara, perhaps you should investigate the concept of personal responsibility? It seems you are unaware of it’s existence.

    • monty61

      Indeed. What mup*pet doesn’t know about sunbeds and skin cancer, these days?

  • Ken

    This statement is absolutely false – “According to an article published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2012, sunbeds are thought to cause melanoma in up to 76 per cent of young people who ever use them”. – Lara Prendergast misread the article. The 76 per cent referred to people diagnosed, not all those who ever used sunbeds.

    This statement – “The World Health Organisation lists sunbeds as a Group 1 carcinogen, the same classification given to tobacco” – fails to mention that WHO also lists oral contraceptives, salted fish, alcohol, and the sun itself as Group 1 carcinogens.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      You’re presuming that the Speccie kids can even understand what it is you posted there, or its significance. I don’t think they can.

    • Mark Carter

      I’ll bear that I mind if I need to visit the world renowned Salty Fish clinic

  • sfin

    If we didn’t have a ‘National Health Service’ we would be free, as individuals, to decide for ourselves what was good or bad for us, and regulate our lives accordingly.

    I don’t want boys like Cameron, Milliband and the Clegglet to let me know what is bad for my health by making me pay more for it – through ‘regulation’ I want to make an informed choice based on what expert health professionals tell me.

    Is that too much to ask?

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      What do McDonald`s, Guinness, Johnny Walker and Ed Miliband have in common?

      • Hexhamgeezer

        They all damage your brain with too much exposure?

        • Kennybhoy

          Boom! Boom! :-)

  • Hexhamgeezer

    I feel terribly sorry for the lady in the picture. She’s forgotten to take her watch off and will suffer ‘watch tan line’ syndrome. She’s going to feel a right chump afterwards.

    • ugly_fish

      I think it’s CGI – an anorexic with plastic t*ts… (like a certain “posh” person)

    • Kennybhoy

      Bad man! lol :-)

  • Hello

    “Liverpool City Council have again raised this concern today, and called for licensing powers to try to cut down on the number of people being diagnosed with skin cancer”

    Well, if it’s only the diagnosis you’re looking to cut then that can be more easily achieved by reducing the number of doctors in Liverpool. I expect it would be a more cost efficient approach too.

  • CharlietheChump

    More regulation. If you are stupid enough to sit within / under these devices you are showing your Darwinist tendency for extirmnation.

    Licensing everyone in Liverpool, now that’s a novel source of council funding.

    • Aloysius

      Have you ever heard of the Darwin awards? They’re awards for taking genes out of the gene pool in a stupid way, such as trying to armed rob a gun shop, or lying in one of these cancerous machines.

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