Skin cancer cases rise precipitously due to artificial tanning

As large numbers of people, especially young women in developed countries, prepare to get an artificial tan in readiness for summer, the United Nations health agency today underscored the heightened risk of skin cancer from such sunbeds, warning that nobody under age 18 should use them and urging stronger state regulation.

“There has been mounting concern over the past several years that people and in particular, teenagers are using sunbeds excessively to acquire tans which are seen as socially desirable,” World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General for environmental health Dr. Kerstin Leitner said. “However, the consequence of this sunbed usage has been a precipitous rise in the number of skin cancer cases.

“We are therefore calling attention to this fact and we would hope that this recommendation will inspire regulatory authorities to adopt stricter controls on the usage of sunbeds,” Dr. Leitner added, noting that childhood exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation either from the sun or sunbeds are known to increase the risk of developing melanoma later.

With an estimated 132,000 annual cases of and 66,000 deaths from malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, some sunbeds have the capacity to emit UV levels many times stronger than the mid-day summer sun in most countries. Yet only a few countries, such as Belgium, France or Sweden, have sunbed regulations.

“As long as sunbeds are available to the public, there is a need for guidelines or legislation to reduce the risks associated with their use,” the agency said. “WHO encourages governments to formulate and enforce effective laws.”

Growing use, along with the desire and fashion to have a tan, are seen as the prime reason behind the fast growth in skin cancers in such countries as Norway and Sweden, where the annual incidence of melanoma is estimated to have tripled in the last 45 years, or in the United States, where the rate has doubled in the last 30 years.

Beyond skin cancers, some of the main consequences of excess UV exposure include eye damage and premature skin ageing and reduced effectiveness of the immune system, possibly leading to a greater risk of infectious diseases. Acute effects on the eye include cataracts, pterygium – a white coloured growth over the cornea – and inflammations such as photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis. This is why protective goggles are recommended when using a sunbed.

Only in very rare and specific cases should medically-supervised sunbed use be considered, such as for treating certain skin conditions like dermatitis and psoriasis, and then only under qualified medical supervision in an approved medical clinic, not unsupervised in commercial tanning premises or at home, WHO warned.

From United Nations

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