QIMR skin cancer researchers enlisted to fight for sunbed ban in England

Two pioneering skin cancer experts, who helped deliver an outright ban on commercial sunbeds in Australia six years ago, are helping provide the case for a total ban in England.

Associate Professor Louisa Gordon and Professor Adele Green from QIMR Berghofer were called upon by UK colleagues to help demonstrate the economic case for banning sunbeds in new research showing it would save millions of pounds, hundreds of lives, and prevent thousands of cases of skin cancer.

Associate Professor Louisa Gordon

Associate Professor Gordon said the study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, showed a ban combined with a public information campaign would be a highly efficient use of healthcare resources.

“We know that exposure to the Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunbeds causes melanoma and other skin cancer. Using a sunbed increases the risk of having a melanoma by almost 60 percent. The health effects are so clear, but if that health evidence isn’t enough for policy makers, then it’s critical to prove the economic case for why a ban is needed, and the cost savings for the health system are very convincing,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

The latest research tracked a cohort of 18-year-olds over a lifetime and found a ban would prevent 4.6 percent of deaths from melanoma, 1,206 melanoma cases, and 3,987 cases of other skin cancers, and result in a net monetary benefit of almost $19 million.

The research was based on modelling developed by Associate Professor Gordon and Professor Green that helped lead to a ban on commercial solariums in all states and territories in Australia by 2016. 

“What happened in Australia was a great example of government putting people’s health before profits. The sunbed industry was in its infancy in Australia when the calls for a ban began. In England, the industry is established and profitable, so the challenge there is even greater now than what Australia faced,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

Dr Martin Eden from the University of Manchester, who is the lead author on the recent publication, spent several months in Australia working with QIMR Berghofer researchers to learn about their modelling.

“We hope that leaders and policy makers in England see this clear evidence and ban indoor tanning. Our analysis can also be used by other countries and applied to their own populations. Failing to do this will just cost governments more in the long run,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

Commercial sunbeds are illegal for anyone under 18 years-old in England, but are popular among adults with 17 percent of women and 8 percent of men using them. More than 16,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year in the UK.

“England isn’t known for its sunshine but we know people are using sunbeds before they head off on holiday to Spain, for example. Extending the ban to adults would send the message that using a sunbed to get a tan is just not worth it,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

Australia, Brazil and Iran are the only countries in the world to have banned commercial sunbeds outright, with other countries imposing varying levels of restrictions.

To request an interview with Associate Professor Louisa Gordon, please email media@qimrberghofer.edu.au or contact Bridie Barry on 0406 948 188.