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Government to consider banning sunbeds in bid to cut ‘preventable’ skin cancer deaths 

Ministers will consider banning sunbeds in the UK in a bid to cut cancer cases and deaths by thousands.

Health minister James Morris today agreed to discuss prohibiting the beds following pressure from Labour MP Sarah Owen for the Government to take the ‘dangers of sunbeds seriously’.

Unprotected exposure to UV rays from the devices leaves people vulnerable to skin cancer such as melanoma, which kills six Britons every day.

If the move went ahead, it would see Britain follow in the footsteps of Australia and Brazil, where sunbeds have been banned for years.

Charity Melanoma UK, which has been campaigning for the ban, urged ministers to ‘act now’ to ‘save lives and reduce NHS treatment costs’. 

It comes after scientists found that banning the beds would prevent thousands of melanoma cases and deaths and save the NHS millions of pounds.

Health minister James Morris today agreed to discuss prohibiting the beds following pressure from Labour MP Sarah Owen for the Government to take the ‘dangers of sunbeds seriously’ 

Melanoma: The most dangerous form of skin cancer 

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumours.  

Causes

  • Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
  • Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma 
  • Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
  • Hair colour: Red heads are more at risk than others
  • Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
  • Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk

Treatment 

This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary. 

The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent. 

  • Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy: 

This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body. 

Prevention

  • Use sunscreen and do not burn
  • Avoid tanning outside and in beds 
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
  • Keep newborns out of the sun
  • Examine your skin every month
  • See your physician every year for a skin exam 

 Source: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society

Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons today, Ms Owen explained: ‘Sunbeds continue to be used all-year round at very high risk.

‘So does the minister agree it’s time we took the dangers of sunbeds seriously and does the minister support Melanoma UK’s campaign to ban the use of sunbeds – and if not, why not?’

Mr Morris replied: ‘Given the weather we’re experiencing at the moment, issues to do with melanoma are high on the priority list.

‘I’m very happy to meet with the honourable lady to discuss the specific issues she’s raised in relation to sunbeds.’

More than 100,000 melanoma cases are diagnosed in the UK every year and 2,500 people die from the cancer.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because of its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if it is not caught early. 

Gillian Nuttall, chief executive of Melanoma UK, said the treatment of skin cancers ‘places a heavy burden’ on the NHS.

She said: ‘Most skin cancers are preventable by reducing exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and indoor tanning devices — sunbeds/tanning beds.

‘Logically, it is therefore possible to reduce the burden of skin cancer by banning the use of commercial sunbeds.

‘This is not a new idea: Australia and Brazil banned them many years ago.

‘The UK must act now. Understanding the cost and consequences of a ban on sunbeds in the UK would provide useful evidence for healthcare decision makers.

‘A ban on sunbeds along with a public health campaign would save lives and reduce NHS treatment costs.’

However, sunbed advocates complained that there was a lack of data to support the outright ban. 

Gary Lipman, chairman of the Sunbed Association, said there is ‘no robust scientific evidence that demonstrates a causal relationship between responsible sunbed use by those able to tan and melanoma’.

He added: ‘Sunbed use in the UK is regulated and members of the Sunbed Association operate to our strict operational code of practice.

‘We very much look forward to having the opportunity to meet with Sarah Owen MP and minister James Morris to present our position.’ 

It comes after researchers from the University of Manchester in May found that a sunbed ban would prevent thousands of skin cancer deaths and save the NHS millions of pounds.

The team tracked the projected impact of the move on the more than 600,000 18-year-olds living in England.

Their modelling suggested an outright ban on indoor sunbeds would result in over 1,000 fewer cases of melanoma and 200 fewer melanoma deaths in their lifetimes.

The policy, if applied solely to people aged 18, would also save the NHS £700,000, according to the report.

But in reality, the lives spared and money saved may be far greater when the effects on all age groups are factored in, the experts claim.  

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