Young 'increasingly' at risk from skin cancer

Doctors are warning more and more young people are putting themselves at risk of getting skin cancer.

The Royal College of GPs claim that skin cancer is on the increase and it should be a "wake up call".

"We are seeing an increase in people with skin cancers, particularly the really nasty melanomas at younger ages," says Professor Steve Field from the RCGPs.

"Too much sun, particularly if you're getting burned, is very dangerous. And sunbeds contribute to that," he adds.

Revealed, the BBC Two programme that looks into issues affecting young people, spoke to Amy Hills from Sheffield who was diagnosed with skin cancer earlier this year after heavy use of sunbeds as a teenager.

She said: "I knew the risks… and I ignored the advice I was given as I thought it's never going to happen to me."

Potentially fatal

Amy, 24, would take two or three tanning sessions per week and had her own sunbed at home for several months.

Had she not mentioned a mole to her GP whilst visiting for something unrelated, Amy was told she could have died.

"I was told by the surgeon if I'd left it another four to six months it would have been likely to be fatal."

The mole turned out to be a malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

According to a recent survey by Cancer Research UK, on average, six per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds use sunbeds.

But the figures are much higher in some areas, particularly Liverpool and Sunderland, where 50% of 15 to 17-year-old girls use them.

Sunbed ban

Under-18s are already banned from using sunbeds in Scotland, and in April 2011 the law will change in England and Wales to make it illegal.

Many salons, including the UK's biggest chain, do not allow anyone under 18 to use a sunbed.

Kieron Mooney, Director of The Tanning Shop said: "We took a precautionary approach. The advice was that it wasn't in the best interests for young skin to use sunbeds."

But he disputes claims that using sunbeds is risky for adults and says they are a good alternative to natural sunlight.

"Given the climate that we live in, given the lifestyles that we live, an artificial source of UV light is a very viable supplement."

Amy however is keen for others to hear her story and realise the potential risks of spending long periods of time on a sunbed.

"I've got this horrible scar on my arm and it's going to affect the rest of my life now and it is that dangerous just to look brown, I don't think it's worth it".

Watch 'Revealed... Loving the tan?' on BBC Two at 1.55pm, Saturday 21 August 2010.