Ban on solariums in England would save hundreds of lives from skin cancer, study finds

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Alexander Pohl/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Alexander Pohl/REX/Shutterstock

Public health researchers who were instrumental in solariums being banned in Australia are now helping to fight for a ban in the UK to reduce the number of skin cancer cases.

Associate Prof Louisa Gordon, a health economist at the QIMR Berghofer medical research institute, influenced state, territory and federal governments in Australia to regulate and eventually ban tanning beds from 2016.

Research from Gordon and her colleagues found that 281 melanomas, 43 deaths and 2,572 squamous cell carcinomas were attributable to solarium use in Australia each year, at a cost to the health system of around AU$3m. It is estimated that the ban led to 31,009 melanomas being averted in young Australians over their remaining lives.

Despite the risks of solariums being now well established, other countries have been slower to ban or regulate them.

Related: Skin cancers on the rise in Australia as sun damage catches up with ageing population

Frustrated by this lack of progress, Dr Martin Eden, from the University of Manchester in England, spent several months in Australia working with Gordon and her colleagues to understand how they assessed the costs and harms associated with solarium use in Australia.

They then applied that modelling to England, tracking the projected impact of a solarium ban on the more than 600,000 18-year-olds living there.

Their research, which has just been published in the British Journal of Dermatology, found a ban on indoor tanning would result in 1,206 fewer cases of melanoma and 207 fewer melanoma deaths over their lifetimes. It would save the National Health Service £700,000, the study found.

A solarium ban would also result in 3,987 fewer cases of other more common types of skin cancer, squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas, the research found.

“We had all of the evidence, the calculations and strategies that we used while making the model to inform the health and economic case for a ban in Australia,” Gordon said.

“We handed that over to our colleagues in England and said: ‘Why don’t you adapt this to the UK situation?’

“So we did a lot of the bulk of the early work in Australia, and now they [Eden and his team] have improved that model and updated it to make their case.”

The sun bed industry was in its infancy in Australia when the calls for a ban began.

But in England , “the industry is established and profitable, so the challenge there is even greater now than what Australia faced,” Gordon said.

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 among young women living in the north-west.

It is also estimated there are about 62,000 children under 18 currently using sunbeds in England. Sun beds give off ultraviolet radiation that can damage the skin and eyes and, Gordon said, increases the risk of having a melanoma by almost 60%.

Prof Adele Green from the University of Manchester said despite sun beds leading to deaths, “policymakers 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.”

The chief executive at Melanoma Focus, Susanna Daniels, said 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,” she said.

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