Young people * Healthy living

Sunbed cancer threat to children

Zone default image Experts call for ban on unsupervised machines

More than one quarter of a million children in England are putting their future health at risk by using sunbeds, experts have warned.

Cancer Research UK carried out two surveys of over 9,000 children and teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 to find out the extent of sunbed use in England.

The first survey of over 3,000 children found that 6% in England have used a sunbed, starting around the age of fourteen. However this figure almost doubled to 11% in the north of the country.

A second survey of over 6,000 children in six cities, found that the highest sunbed use occurred in Liverpool and Sunderland, with around 50% of 15 to 17 year old girls using them regularly.

More than four in ten questioned said they used them at least once a week.

When it came to tanning salons, the charity found that only 11% of children using sunbeds had been shown how to operate the machines, and been warned of the potential dangers.

In a letter published in this week's British Medical Journal, Professor Chris Twelves from St. James University Hospital in Leeds and Catherine Thomson from Cancer Research UK, who led the study, commented: "This rate of sunbed use would lead to more than an estimated quarter of a million 11 to 17 year olds being put at increased risk of developing malignant melanoma."

They also called for an end to all unsupervised or coin operated tanning salons and an age limit of over-18 to be set for people using them.

Sara Hiom from Cancer Research UK said: “Numerous other countries, including Scotland, have introduced legislation to protect children from sunbeds; we are calling on the Government to introduce legislation as a matter of urgency.”

The number of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma - the most deadly type of skin cancer - has more than quadrupled since the 1970s. Sunbed use and binge tanning are thought to be behind the rapid rise.

One in ten cases of malignant melanoma occur in under-35s, while around one in three are diagnosed in under-50s.

Each year around 2,000 people die of the disease. In the UK, it is now the biggest cause of cancer death among women in their twenties.

This article was published on Fri 13 November 2009

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