Study links sunbeds to most common forms of skin cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

As well as increasing the risk of melanoma skin cancer - the most serious form of the disease - sunbed users are also at increased risk of developing the much more common forms, according to US researchers.

The link between sunbed use and malignant melanoma has been established for some time. But the study confirms recent studies that it can also cause both types of non-melanoma skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell skin cancer.

These cancers are far less dangerous than melanoma, but much more common - an estimated 100,000 people are diagnosed in the UK every year, and the diseases cause around 550 deaths a year.

Scientists from the University of California in San Francisco reviewed 12 studies of 9,328 people with non-melanoma skin cancer.

People who used sunbeds increased their risk of developing the squamous cell type by 67 per cent and their risk of basal cell carcinoma by 29 per cent.

According to the American Cancer Society, around 2 million people are diagnosed with basal and squamous cell skin cancer each year in the US. The study researchers, led by Professor Eleni Linos at the University of California, estimate that sunbeds cause over 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer every year in the US alone. The study does not provide UK-specific estimates.

The study, published in the journal BMJ, shows there is "a critical period" during early life where exposure to the rays of tanning beds is particularly dangerous.

It found that the risk of basal cell carcinoma was particularly high in people who started using sunbeds before the age of 25.

Cancer Research UK said the study shows that sunbeds are not a safe alternative to sunbathing.

Cancer Research UK's health information manager, Dr Claire Knight, said: "This study adds to the already large body of evidence showing that sunbed use increases the risk of several types of skin cancer. This includes malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, but also non-melanoma skin cancer, which although generally less serious is far more common."

In the UK under-18s already face restrictions on sunbed use, and unsupervised tanning salons are banned. Businesses that fail to comply with the regulations and allow under-18s to use sunbeds face fines of up to £20,000.

Copyright Press Association 2012


  • Wehner, M.R. et al. (2012). Indoor tanning and non-melanoma skin cancer: systematic review and meta-analysis, BMJ, 345 (oct02 3) e5909. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e5909