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Sunbed use can increase skin cancer risk by 75%

By Lisa Smyth

Regular use of a sunbed under the age of 35 increases the risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancer by 75%, health experts warned today.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Northern Ireland and accounts for more than one quarter of all cancer patients in the province.

There are two main types of skin cancer — melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is the least common but is the most serious form. There has been a dramatic increase in cases over the years with malignant melanoma skin cancer cases nearly trebling in 25 years.

The main risk factor with this particular cancer is over exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), either as a result of natural sunlight or by using a sunbed.

Research shows that using a sunbed once a month or more can increase the risk of developing skin cancer by more than half, and using sunbeds before the age of 35 years can increase the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by up to 75%.

With these figures in mind the Public Health Agency has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the health effects of sunbed use — particularly among young people.

Dr Eddie Rooney, chief executive of PHA, said there is a common misconception sunbeds offer a safe way to get a tan. “Repeated exposure to UV damages the DNA in skin cells, which increases the risk of skin cancer and makes skin age faster,” he said.

Gerry McElwee, head of Cancer Prevention at the Ulster Cancer Foundation, said: “The ultraviolet rays emitted from sunbeds can be many times stronger than the midday sun and increase the risk of developing skin cancer, speed up the skin’s aging process and cause eye damage including cataracts in later life.

“The younger a person starts using sunbeds, the greater the danger as they increase their exposure to UV radiation. With malignant melanoma on the rise we need to raise awareness with the public, particularly young people about the dangers of sunbed use.”

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