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Deadly skin cancer now threatens women in their twenties

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by Cancer Research UK | News

8 April 2009

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The deadliest form of skin cancer has now become the most common kind of cancer for women in their 20s – according to the latest figures from Cancer Research UK which launches its 2009 SunSmart campaign today.

Almost every day of the year in the UK a woman between 20 and 29 is diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the potentially fatal form of skin cancer. In this age range there are twice as many cases of melanoma as there are of breast cancer.

Latest figures show* around 340 women in their 20s were diagnosed with melanoma in a single year.

And for women in their thirties melanoma has risen to be the third most common cancer after breast and cervix.

Around 50 women under the age of 40 die from melanoma each year. Overall the disease kills around 1800 people every year but rates are predicted to rise.

By the year 2024 Cancer Research UK statisticians predict that malignant melanoma will be the fourth most common cancer for men and for women – of all ages – rising from around 9,000 cases diagnosed each year now to more than 15,500.

Experts believe that binge tanning, usually on foreign holidays and increasing use of sunbeds are prime reasons for the alarming rise in this life-threatening disease.

Caroline Cerny, Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign manager, said: “Spending time on sunbeds is just as dangerous as staying out too long in sun. Sunbeds don’t offer a safe way to tan. The intensity of UV rays in some sunbeds can be more than 10 times stronger than the midday sun.

“Excessive exposure to UV damages the DNA in skin cells which increases the risk of skin cancer and makes skin age faster.

“But, importantly, if people take care not to burn in the sun and don’t use sunbeds the majority of malignant melanoma could be prevented.”

A Cancer Research UK survey of 4000 people last year revealed that one woman in three had used a sunbed. And research shows that using sunbeds under the age of 35 can increase the risk of melanoma by 75 per cent.

The survey also found that 80 per cent of sunbed users first used a sunbed under the age of 35.

Jenna Gurney, now 28, from London, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma when she was 21. She had used sunbeds twice a week since she was 16, regularly topping up her tan. A mole on her stomach got bigger and started to grow flaky so her GP advised it should be removed. She was shocked to be diagnosed with melanoma and had to endure an operation to remove her lymph nodes under her arms.

“When I was a teenager, my friends and I used sunbeds all the time. It was just so important to have a tan all year round and to top it up for nights out,” said Jenna, an administrator.

“When I used sunbeds I used an intensifier cream instead of any kind of protective sun lotion. On holiday I did put on sun lotion but never worried about regularly reapplying it or using a high factor.

“Even though the risks were at the back of my mind, I’m just one of those people who think it will never happen to me. If I could go back and have my time again I would never use sunbeds. I wouldn’t want to go through the stress and worry of having cancer for the sake of a tan.

“I’ve always liked the look of a healthy glow but I am now really careful in the sun, stay in the shade and religiously apply sun lotion. Now I use fake tan products.”

“It’s only been since my cancer diagnosis that I understand the serious consequences of using sunbeds and spending too much time in the sun. I hope my story will make others aware of the risks of melanoma from using sunbeds.”

A recent study** found that nine per cent of 11-17 year old girls have used a sunbed.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “It is extremely worrying to see that so many young girls are using sunbeds. Young skin is delicate and so easily damaged by the sun. Damage from UV builds up over time. Every time young people use a sunbed they are harming their skin and increasing their risk of skin cancer.”

For more information on Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign visit


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK’s national press office on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours’ duty press officer on 07050 264059.