Sunbed cancer risk could be worse than previously thought

Winter in Britain is not the most ideal time and place to pick up a tan due to the typical dark, gloomy and rain-filled conditions. For those who want to boast a slightly darker shade without having to splash the cash on an expensive holiday, the last resort for many men and women is to use sunbeds or fake tanning products to achieve the bronzed appearance they require.

However, the findings of a new Cancer Research UK funded study could now deter people from using sunbeds as shockingly nine out of every ten sunbeds in England are failing to adhere to health and safety standards, leaving millions at risk of developing potentially-fatal skin cancer (melanoma).

Researchers from the University of Dundee inspected 402 different sunbeds in England between 2010 and 2011 and to their horror found that the levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted were approximately on average twice as high than recommended limits on the majority of the sunbeds. Only 10% of those inspected were actually in-line with safety limits – 0.3 watts per square metre (Wm2) ultraviolet (UV) radiation limit. This means 90% had an average UV radiation level of around 0.6Wm2.

The researchers took into account the chance of developing skin cancer from sunbeds and contrasted this against the risk a person might have of getting skin cancer from tanning themselves naturally under the baking heat of the Mediterranean sunshine. They discovered that the risk of skin cancer from sunbeds was over double that of spending the same time period in the midday sunshine.

Lead researcher Professor Harry Moseley, consultant medical physicist at University of Dundee, said: “The development of high-power sunlamps, along with clear failures of the sunbed industry to regulate themselves effectively, is putting young people at an even greater risk of skin cancer than we previously thought. We hope that these findings will make people think twice before using sunbeds as you can’t be sure how much radiation you’re exposing yourself to when you try to top up a tan. People need to be encouraged to take better care of their skin; otherwise the cases of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, will continue to increase.”

However, Gary Lipman, from the Sunbed Association, which represents the companies which manufacture and operate tanning station, hit back at the study and stressed that the information compiled was several years out-of-date. He said: “The findings of this study are two years out of date. If the study was undertaken today, the results would be dramatically different. Sunbeds have been required to have a maximum UV output since 2009 and the Sunbed Association has been working with its members, non-members and the enforcement departments within local authorities since that time to inform about the change in UV emission levels and advise how to become compliant and ensure compliance.”

Melanoma is relatively rare, but has become more prominent in recent times because of the surge in people using sunbeds. The cancer is caused due to cells beginning to abnormally develop in the skin and health experts believe it is exposure to UV light from natural or artificial sources such as a sunbed could be responsible. It starts within the skin and may spread to organs in the body. A typical sign of this cancer is the alteration of an existing mole of the sudden appearance of a new one.

Medical Specialists Pharmacy advises you to see your GP as soon as possible if you notice any changes on your skin that do not clear within a month. If possible, document any potential changes in this time by taking photographs. Other alterations could occur on the skin that may not be cancer – especially within older people, however it is still advised that you visit your doctor so he can rule out cancer or any other serious conditions. They may refer you to a skin specialist or a specialist plastic surgeon if they suspect skin cancer or are unable to give an official diagnosis.

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