September 2013
Topping up a tan increases risk of skin cancer
Sunbeds are a popular way to top up a summer tan but with evidence of the health
risks associated with sunbed use, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Cancer
Focus Northern Ireland are encouraging people to think twice before using them.
Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, PHA, said: “Using
sunbeds can harm your long-term health. Sunbeds have been linked to a higher risk
of skin cancer, with people who use sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35
significantly increasing their risk of developing malignant melanoma (the most
serious form of skin cancer). Sunbeds also contribute to eye damage including a
higher risk of cataracts if appropriate eye protection is not worn, and premature skin
ageing which means that skin becomes coarse, leathery and wrinkled at a younger
Marbeth Ferguson, Skin Cancer Prevention Co-ordinator, Cancer Focus, said:
“There are still people who are ignoring the risks and choosing to use sunbeds. We
advise that no one should use sunbeds for cosmetic purposes. The levels of UV
radiation emitted from sunbeds can be as strong as the Mediterranean midday sun in
summer - remember there is no safe level of exposure.”
New sunbed legislation was introduced in May 2012 and states that operators of
sunbed premises mustn’t allow anyone under 18 to use a sunbed; must provide
customers with information on the risks associated with sunbed use; and must
ensure protective eyewear is available.
Trudy Stanfield, Chair of the Sunbed Working Group said: “We would ask the public
to support the Environmental Health Departments at local councils in enforcing this
legislation, as we rely on reports from the public to identify businesses which are not
complying with the new law. Any businesses that fail to comply with the law are
committing an offence and will be subject to a fixed penalty.”
If you are concerned about skin cancer you should talk to your GP. You can also call
the Cancer Focus free information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339 or email
one of the charity’s nurses on [email protected] Early detection of skin
cancer can significantly improve survival so regularly checking your skin is important.
Notes to editors:
1. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Northern Ireland and accounts for
28% of all cancers diagnosed here - around 3,330* people develop it each
year. While most skin cancers are not malignant the most severe form,
malignant melanoma, can be a potentially life threatening condition,
particularly if not diagnosed in the early stages. (* average number per year
from 2007-2011. Ref. NI Cancer Registry)
2. It is important to check skin regularly for suspected skin cancers. Check the
whole body as skin cancer can occur in places not normally exposed to the
sun. Be aware of any new spots, or existing spots that have changed colour,
size or shape. A skin cancer may be a spot that bleeds easily, never heals
properly or is always itchy. If an unusual spot is identified, show this to a
doctor. Most skin cancers can be treated successfully if treated early.
3. The Public Health Agency is the lead organisation for the implementation of
the Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy and Action Plan 2011-2021 launched in
July 2011.
4. Building on the work of the former Northern Ireland Melanoma Implementation
Group (NIMSIG), a Skin Cancer Strategy Implementation Group, jointly
chaired by the Public Health Agency and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, has
been established to take forward the six objectives contained in the Strategy
and Action Plan.
5. The Skin Cancer Strategy Implementation Group is a multi-agency group
which includes representatives from the Public Health Agency, Cancer Focus
Northern Ireland, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public
Safety, Environmental Health, General Practice, Pharmacy, the Belfast Health
& Social Care Trust, the Northern Health & Social Care Trust, the South
Eastern Health & Social Care Trust, the Southern Health & Social Care Trust,
the Western Health & Social Care Trust, the Health & Safety Executive
Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.