Michele Slane’s personal story

Michele Slane’s personal story

Sunbeds are a popular way to top up a summer tan but with evidence of the health risks associated with sunbed use, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland are encouraging people to think twice before using them.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, PHA, said: “Using sunbeds can harm your long-term health. Research shows that using a sunbed once a month or more can increase the risk of developing skin cancer and using sunbeds before the age of 35 years can significantly increase the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer. Many people think having a tan makes them look healthier and more attractive, but we know having a tan is actually a sign that our skin is trying to protect itself from UV damage rather than a sign of being healthy.”

Marbeth Ferguson, Skin Cancer Prevention Co-ordinator, Cancer Focus NI, said: “In the last five years skin cancer diagnoses have increased by almost 20% and the fashion for having tanned skin has certainly contributed to this situation. There are still people who are ignoring the risks and choosing to use sunbeds. We advise that no one should use sunbeds for cosmetic purposes. The levels of UV radiation emitted from sunbeds can be as strong as the Mediterranean midday sun in summer – remember there is no safe level of exposure.”

Local Belfast woman Michele Slane was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2010 following years of enjoying tanning and using sunbeds:

“From about the age of 17 until 30 I used sunbeds on a regular basis. I didn’t use them every week, but maybe about two hours over the course of a year.”

“Following my diagnosis my outlook on tanning has changed considerably.  I’m now extremely conscious of protecting my skin. Whenever I hear of someone going for a sunbed session I’m warning them about the dangers. But like I did all those years ago, young people think that it won’t happen to them. That is why it is really important to change attitudes to tanning, to encourage people to pay attention to their skin and if they notice any changes to go to their GP to get it checked out. I’m so glad that it wasn’t too late for me.”

New sunbed legislation was introduced in May 2012 and states that operators of sunbed premises mustn’t allow anyone under 18 to use a sunbed, must provide customers with information on the risks associated with sunbed use, and must ensure protective eyewear is available.

Trudy Stanfield, Chair of the Sunbed Working Group said: “We must recognise and acknowledge the commitment of local businesses in complying with the new laws. While the majority of businesses are compliant any that fail to comply need to be aware they are committing a criminal offence.”

We would ask the public to support the Environmental Health Departments at local councils in enforcing this legislation, as we rely on reports from the public to identify businesses which are not enforcing the new laws.

If you are concerned about skin cancer you should talk to your GP. You can also call the Cancer Focus NI’s free information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339 or email one of the charity’s nurses on [email protected] Early detection of skin cancer can significantly improve survival so regularly checking your skin is important.

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