Our policy on sun awareness
Over the last 25 years, malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, has seen the largest increase in incidence rates of all major cancers.
Malignant melanoma claims over 2,000 deaths every year and is now the second most common cancer in young adults in the UK.
The growth in UK incidence rates over the past thirty years is a clear indication of the need for continuing public education on how to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer and how to detect the early signs. Cancer Research UK's SunSmart Campaign, run with the support of the UK Health Departments, aims to raise awareness of skin cancer and to encourage people to protect their own and their children's skin in the sun.
Cancer Research UK calls on the Government to commit core-funding to a long term, nationwide, skin cancer prevention campaign.
- Visit our SunSmart microsite.
Cancer Research UK is particularly concerned by the current high level of use of sunbeds for cosmetic purposes, especially by young people. There is growing evidence to show that the use of sunbeds increases the risk of malignant melanoma, especially in people who find it difficult to tan. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that there is convincing evidence to support a causal relationship between sunbed use and skin cancer, particularly with exposure before the age of 35 years. It has been estimated that sunbeds cause 100 deaths from melanomas every year in the UK.
We are especially concerned by the use of sunbeds by young people as we know that younger skin is at particular risk. We know that in Liverpool and Sunderland, around 20 per cent of 11-17 year old children are using sunbeds and 50 per cent of 15-17 year old girls.
Earlier this year, Cancer Research UK worked with Julie Morgan, the previous MP for Cardiff North, to campaign for legislation to prevent under 18 year olds in England and Wales from using sunbeds. We were delighted when four months later Parliament passed the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act. As well as stopping under 18s from using sunbeds, the Act, which will come into force in 2011, will also make it possible to go further through regulations.
Cancer Research UK will seek to work with the Government’s in England and Wales on the development of the regulations to ensure that all sunbed salons are staffed by trained personnel and that all adults are given appropriate health information about the risks associated with sunbed use.
For more information on the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act, visit our Working with Government section of the website.
In June 2008 the Scottish Parliament passed the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act, which included measures to regulate sunbed use in Scotland. These regulations came into force in December 2009 and prevent under 18 year olds from using sunbeds, as well as ensuring that all sunbed salons are staffed, and that all adults are given appropriate health information about the risks associated with sunbed use.
Cancer Research UK worked with MSP Ken Macintosh to campaign for and support the legislation, and we developed a joint campaign with the Scottish Government to promote the regulations coming into force.
On 3 May the Northern Ireland Assembly passed the Sunbeds Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. This legislation forms some of the strongest regulation of sunbeds in the whole of Western Europe. As well as stopping under 18s from using sunbeds, it also prevents them from being able to buy or hire sunbeds, will mean that sunbed salons will have to be supervised and salon staff will have to be properly trained and could require all salons to be registered and licensed.
Health information on the risks of sunbed use will also have to be provided to adult users and buyers, and salons won’t be able to claim any health benefits of using sunbeds. Protective eyewear will need to be available in all salons, and salon staff will need to encourage customers to use it.
This is fantastic news. The Northern Ireland Executive is yet to announce the exact date when these laws will be brought in, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation to ensure that they are introduced as soon as possible.
Everyone needs vitamin D, which is essential for good bone health and protects against bone conditions such as rickets in children, and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults. For most people, sunlight is the most important source of vitamin D. The time required to make sufficient vitamin D varies according to a number of environmental, physical and personal factors, but is typically short and less than the amount of time needed for skin to redden and burn. Enjoying the sun safely, while taking care not to burn, can help to provide the benefits of vitamin D without unduly raising the risk of skin cancer.
As awareness of the early signs and symptoms of skin cancer increases in the population, GPs will be on the front line of skin cancer detection. Cancer Research UK urges the Government to investigate ways of ensuring that GPs are referring cases to dermatology services appropriately.
Investment in dermatology services will also be necessary to prepare for the projected increase in skin cancer cases. This includes increasing the numbers of dermatologists and clinical nurse specialists in skin cancer, especially in areas of the UK that have high post vacancies.
Cancer Research UK has responded to several consultations on sunbed policy and skin cancer. To find out more about our responses to these consultations, please click on one of the links below:
- February 2010 – Regulation of the Sunbed Industry in Northern Ireland
- July 2008 – Consultation on guidance for the use of UV tanning equipment
- July 2006 - The regulation of sunbed parlours bill
- March 2006 - Petition on skin cancer in Scotland
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team