Page last updated at 23:48 GMT, Monday, 7 April 2008 00:48 UK

Sunbed use 'puts lives at risk'

Sunbed UV rays can be many times stronger than the sun

The majority of people who use sunbeds have signficantly increased their risk of life-threatening skin cancer, experts warn.

Research suggests people who start using sunbeds under the age of 35 increase their risk of malignant melanoma by 75%.

A survey of 4,000 people by Cancer Research UK found that 82% of sunbed users fell into that category.

The poll also found one in three women, and one in four men had used a sunbed.

Around 9,000 cases diagnosed in the UK each year, with around 1,800 people dying from the disease
Rates have quadrupled in the UK since the 1970s
Almost one third of cases occur in people under 50; it is the most common cancer in young adults aged 15-34

The charity is launching its annual SunSmart campaign by warning that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in the tanning salon can prove as dangerous as getting burnt on the beach.

There is a common misconception that sunbeds offer a safe way to get a tan.

However, the intensity of some UV rays from sunbeds can be as much as 15 times higher than that of the midday sun.

Repeated exposure to UV damages the DNA in skin cells, which increases the risk of skin cancer and makes skin age faster.

Rising cases

Malignant melanoma is now the most common cancer in young adults aged between 15 and 34 and can be fatal.

Justine Sheils
Justine Sheils regrets using a sunbed

In the UK almost 9,000 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed each year - and more than 1,800 die from the disease each year.

More women are diagnosed with melanoma, but more men die from the disease.

Justine Sheils, a 36-year-old administrator from Liverpool, began using sunbeds when she was 15 so she could get a base tan before summer holidays and then top the tan up when she came home.

When she was 32 she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and has since had two major operations to remove cancerous tumours from her chest and the top of her head.

"The tanning salon was near my school and I used to go in for sunbed sessions on my way home," said Justine.

"I get so angry when I hear young celebrities say having a tan makes you look sexy.

"It's only when you get older you understand the risks. If my story can stop one girl risking melanoma then something good will have come out of my cancer diagnosis."

'Stark warning'

Rebecca Russell, Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign manager, said: "The results of our survey make for a stark warning to young people about the dangers of indoor tanning.

Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
Make sure you never burn
Aim to cover up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses
Use factor 15+ sunscreen
Report mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to your doctor

"You can't always see the damage that UV does straight away. It builds up over time. But every time you use a sunbed you are harming your skin and increasing your risk of skin cancer."

Cancer Research is working with the goverment to review options for possible regulation of the sunbed industry.

The charity is calling for legislation to prevent under-18s using sunbeds, and a ban on unmanned coin-operated machines.

The Sunbed Association supports a ban on under-16s, but not under-18s. Kathy Banks, chief executive, said there was no proven link between skin cancer and sunbed use.

"People who use a sunbed must be suitable to use one and must use it according to their natural tanning ability.

"So people with fair skin must be more cautious than darker skinned people when using a sunbed, and must adjust the time they spend on a sunbed accordingly."

In Scotland there are proposals for a new Public Health Bill to ban under-18s from using sunbeds.

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