Should sun beds be banned? Doing so could prevent deadliest form of skin cancer

·5-min read
A sun bed ban could save 1000 people from deadliest form of skin cancer, new study says. (Getty Images)
A sun bed ban could save 1000 people from deadliest form of skin cancer, new study says. (Getty Images)

Banning sun beds could prevent thousands of skin cancer cases and save the NHS millions, a new study has revealed.

Researchers from the University of Manchester tracked the projected impact of the ban on the 618,000 18-year-olds living in England in 2019, and found that outlawing indoor tanning would result in 1,206 fewer cases of melanoma and 207 fewer melanoma deaths over their lifetimes .

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.

Six Britons die from the disease every day, with tanning beds estimated to be behind around 100 fatalities per year.

Sun bed use is still prevalent in the UK, particularly in the North West of England. (Getty Images)
Sun bed use is still prevalent in the UK, particularly in the North West of England. (Getty Images)

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The study, funded by the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, showed that a ban would result in 3,987 fewer cases of other more common types of skin cancer (squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas) which impose a major burden on both patients and the NHS.

The study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, also examined the costs of a public information campaign at the same time as the ban, and the potential savings to the NHS.

And the policy would also save the NHS £700,000 resulting in a Net Monetary Benefit of £10.6m with a 99% likelihood that the ban with the information campaign would be cost-effective.

The actual impact of an indoor sun bed ban, and the savings to the NHS that would accrue, would be far greater when benefits to individuals that started to use sun beds over the age of 18 years were also factored in.

The researchers say that the results build on previous studies of the effect of similar legislation on healthcare in North America, Europe and Australia and add to the growing body of evidence supporting a total ban on commercial sun beds.

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Though the International Agency for Research in Cancer in 2009 declared that the ultraviolet radiation from commercial sun beds causes cancer in humans, it is currently legal for anyone over the age of 18 to use them in the UK.

In England, sun bed use is especially high in the north-west and in cities with greater social deprivation. Its popularity is thought to partly explain the unusually high rates of melanoma seen among young women living in the north-west.

It is also estimated there are around 62,000 children under 18 currently using sun beds in England.

Paul Lorigan, a Professor of Oncology at The University of Manchester and Honorary Consultant Medical Oncologist at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust said: “If the NHS invested in a public health campaign to support the ban on sun beds, we estimate that melanoma and other skin cancers would be significantly educed, NHS resources would be saved and deaths averted.

“It is quite clear that melanoma and keratinocyte skin cancers have a significant impact on population health and healthcare budgets, and that a proportion are attributable to indoor tanning. Anyone who has used a sun bed increases their risk of melanoma by almost 60% .

“We show quite conclusively for the first time that banning indoor tanning supported by a public health campaign would be an efficient use of healthcare resources to reduce melanoma and other skin cancers in England.

“Our findings agree with calculations of future productivity losses that were caused by these diseases in the USA in mainly young people in 2015 after exposure to tanning devices. There the total economic losses amounted to over $US127 billion over the individuals’ lifetimes.”

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Doctors strongly advise against using sun beds to reduce the risk of cancer. (Getty Images)
Doctors strongly advise against using sun beds to reduce the risk of cancer. (Getty Images)

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The team analysed the cost-effectiveness of the policy on the NHS using modelling to track the national cohort of 18-year-olds over their lifetimes.

Professor Adele Green from The University of Manchester and the CRUK Manchester Institute added: “We already know that indoor tanning devices are strongly linked to melanoma and other skin cancers with resulting morbidity, mortality and increased healthcare costs.

“But policy-makers require robust economic evidence to inform decisions about a possible ban of such devices to mitigate these burdens. We feel we have succeeded in providing that evidence.”

Susanna Daniels, CEO at Melanoma Focus said: "This research is further evidence of the negative public health impact of sun beds. I am thrilled that Melanoma Focus are supporting this project by funding the validation of UK costs of the melanoma diagnostic and treatment pathway.

"For individuals, sun bed use dramatically increases the risk of developing melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. The rates of melanoma skin cancer are increasing in the UK yet 86% of cases are preventable. We strongly advise the avoidance of sun beds."