Sunbeds moved up to highest cancer risk category

In collaboration with the Press Association

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, has decided to place sunbeds in the highest cancer risk category.

Sunbeds were previously in the lower 'group 2A' category, which contains threats that are 'probably carcinogenic to humans', but their new status as 'group 1' carcinogens - the highest category - removes any element of doubt.

Solar radiation has been in group 1 for some time.

Three subtypes of ultraviolet radiation - UVA, UVB and UVC - have also been moved up into group 1, according to a special report in the latest issue of the Lancet Oncology.

This follows a study which showed that UVA-treated mice developed the same characteristic genetic mutation that had previously only been attributed to solar UVB radiation.

The decision was made by the IARC Monograph Working Group, which noted that the use of sunbeds is "widespread" in many developed countries, particularly among young women.

"A comprehensive meta-analysis concluded that the risk of skin melanoma is increased by 75 per cent when use of tanning devices starts before 30 years of age," the study authors revealed.

Jessica Harris, Cancer Research UK's health information officer, commented: "The link between sunbeds and skin cancer has been convincingly shown in a number of scientific studies now and so we are very pleased that IARC have upgraded sunbeds to the highest risk category.

"This backs up Cancer Research UK's advice to avoid sunbeds completely for cosmetic purposes. They have no health benefits and we know that they increase the risk of cancer."

Ms Harris added: "Given the dangers of sunbeds, we want the government to act now to ban under-18s from using sunbeds, close salons that aren't supervised by trained staff and ensure information about the risks of using sunbeds is given to all customers."

The IARC working group also noted that a number of studies have provided "consistent evidence" of a link between UV-emitting devices and ocular melanoma, or melanoma of the eye.

Ocular melanoma is particularly common among welders, who may be exposed to UV radiation during the welding process.

The study authors noted that this trend may be due to other harmful agents, but that a "full review of the carcinogenic hazards of welding will be undertaken with high priority".

In addition, the working group reviewed all types of ionising radiation and decided to classify them as group 1 carcinogens. Examples include radon gas, plutonium, radium, phosphorus-32 and radioiodines.