Tanning Devices – Fast Track to Skin Cancer?

An all over tan is fashionable and large numbers of people, especially young women, achieve this by using sunbeds. Professor Antony Young, of King’s College London, has reviewed the evidence that links sunbed use to malignant melanoma; a skin cancer that is fatal if not detected and treated early. Malignant melanoma is a cancer of the skin’s cells that are responsible for tanning (melanocytes). Unlike most cancers, that tend to occur in late middle age, malignant melanoma can appear in younger people. There are about 6000 new cases of malignant melanoma in the UK each year and it is the 3rd most common cancer in women under 35. New data published earlier this week shows that malignant melanoma in the UK has increased by 24% in the period 1995-2000.

The tanning properties of sunbeds come from their UVB and UVA radiation, both of which are found in the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This radiation is known to damage the skin’s genetic information and its immunity, and it is these effects that result in skin cancer. Tanning is increasingly recognized as the skin’s SOS response to damage by ultraviolet radiation (UVR). It is often argued that a tan is protective but in reality a suntan is equivalent to a sunscreen with a very low sun protection factor (SPF) and its acquisition is associated with an accumulation of DNA damage.

Professor Young’s review, in Pigment Cell Research, shows that there is increasingly compelling evidence for a link between sunbed use and malignant melanoma. This link is not surprising because the sun’s UVR is widely recognized as the primary cause of malignant melanoma. The continuing and widespread use of sunbeds is likely to result in increased numbers of people with malignant melanoma. There is a good case, as is done in some countries, for restricting sunbed use to those of 18 years of age and above. It is also worth noting that the regular use of sunbeds will markedly accelerate skin ageing.

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