Sunbeds 'raise risk of skin cancer by 75%'

The Government could review laws on sunbeds after a report revealed that the tanning machines can increase the risk of skin tumours by 75 per cent.

A study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said ultraviolet-emitting tanning devices were more dangerous than previously suggested.

The research, published in the latest edition of The Lancet Oncology medical journal, found the risk was greatest to children and young adults.

"The risk of skin melanoma is increased by 75% when use of tanning devices starts before 30 years of age," the report said. "Additionally, several case-control studies provide consistent evidence of a positive association between the use of ultraviolet-emitting tanning devices and ocular melanoma (eye cancer)."

In response a spokesman for the Department of Health said that the Government may look at new laws to exercise tighter control of the use of the machines.

He said: "Sunbeds can be dangerous - we must ensure that people who use them do so safely. If necessary we will look at new laws to protect young people.

"We commissioned a report from the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment to give us a better understanding of the issues around sunbeds. This report was published in June and we are considering the recommendations in full."

The report authors said ultraviolet-emitting sunbeds should be moved to the "highest cancer risk category" and labelled as "carcinogenic to humans", meaning they tended to be linked to cancer.

Previously, it had been classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans".

But The Sunbed Association (TSA) disputed the research and said there was "no proven link" that responsible sunbed use led to skin cancer.

"TSA would dispute the IARC classification that sunbeds are 'carcinogenic to humans'," said TSA chief executive Kathy Banks.

"The fact that is continuously ignored is that there is no proven link between the responsible use of sunbeds and skin cancer.

"However, you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given the amount of mis-information issued by various organisations and subsequently carried by the media.

"The relationship between ultraviolet exposure and an increased risk of developing skin cancer is only likely to arise where over-exposure has taken place. This outcome would be the same whether burning takes place on a sunbed or on a beach or in a park or garden in natural sunlight."

She added: "At the moment, it is not clear to us what this re-classification means. IARC is an expert committee that makes recommendations to the World Health Organisation. We will be following this matter up with them for more information."

Nina Goad, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said it was "high time" that the tanning industry was regulated.

"We know that ultraviolet radiation causes skin cancer, and sunbeds create a tan by emitting UVR, so we welcome the recognition that sunbeds are carcinogenic," she said.

"It is high time that steps were taken to regulate the industry, to prevent children using sunbeds and to ensure that sunbeds are subject to health warnings like other known carcinogens."

The research was produced by Dr Fatiha El Ghissassi and staff at the IARC.

More than 2,600 people die from skin cancer each year in the UK, Cancer Research UK said.

Most skin cancer deaths - more than 2,000 a year - are from malignant melanoma, with the majority of non-melanoma skin cancer deaths in elderly people.

The charity said more than half of people who died from malignant melanoma were younger than 70.

Jessica Harris, the charity's health information officer, said: "The link between sunbeds and skin cancer has been convincingly shown in a number of scientific studies now so we are very pleased that IARC have upgraded sunbeds to the highest risk category.

"This backs up Cancer Research UK's advice to avoid sunbeds completely for cosmetic purposes. They have no health benefits and we know that they increase the risk of cancer.

"Given the dangers of sunbeds, we want the Government to act now to ban under 18s from using sunbeds, close salons that aren't supervised by trained staff and ensure information about the risks of using sunbeds is given to all customers."