Sunbed-loving Europeans face cancer epidemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned young Europeans Thursday that their taste for getting a tan even before they hit the beach could result in an “epidemic” of skin cancer within a decade.

WHO said sunbeds and sunlamps, popular with many tanning-obsessed Europeans, should be banned for under-18s and avoided by everybody else because of their link to cancer.

“We don’t want to see an epidemic of skin cancers coming along some 10 years down the road,” Michael Repacholi, coordinator of WHO’s radiation and health program, said.

“We recommend that you don’t use sunbeds. If you want to, there are a set of rules that we have identified that you should adhere to,” he said, adding people ought be supervised and use goggles to protect their eyes.

Recent studies have shown a direct link between ultraviolet radiation emitted by sunbeds and sunlamps and skin cancers, prompting the WHO to call for stricter controls on their use.

Some 25 percent of sunbed users in northern Europe are aged between 16 and 24, making them the target audience for the warning, Repacholi told Reuters.

Regular sunbed use may cause disfigurement from removal of skin cancers and early death if the cancer is a Malignant melanoma, the U.N. agency said, adding it would also add substantial costs to national health systems.

Promoted by an unregulated, multibillion dollar industry, tanning devices in commercial studios are popular among whites, especially in western Europe and increasingly eastern Europe.

Young females, many fair-skinned, often turn to “all-over tan,” clam-shaped sunbeds ahead of a beach holiday.

“They think they are going to be protecting themselves by getting a tan before they go so they don’t get sunburned when they get there. This is basically a myth, it doesn’t provide adequate protection at all,” Repacholi said.

One in three cancers worldwide is skin-related, mostly due to over-exposure to natural radiation from the sun, according to the WHO. There are 132,000 cases of malignant melanoma worldwide each year and more than 2 million cases of other skin cancers.

The annual incidence rate for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer as it spreads to other parts of the body, is estimated to have more than tripled in Norway and Sweden since 1960, and doubled in the United States since 1975, the WHO said.

Sunbeds can emit levels of ultraviolet radiation many times stronger than the mid-day summer sun, the WHO said. France and Sweden are among the few countries to regulate their use.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.D.