UV radiation from sunbeds can cause serious burns
Rob Hall is an Environmental Health Officer for Bury Council in Greater Manchester, with more than 10 years’ experience.
The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 – introduced after lengthy parliamentary debate and campaigning - makes it illegal for businesses to allow anyone under 18 to use sunbeds on their premises.
The laws were introduced because sunbeds dramatically increase the risk of skin cancer – including melanoma, the most serious form.
And the legislation is there to protect young people – who are most at risk – from forming a habit which can be dangerous in other ways too, as we’ll see below.
But the responsibility for making sure businesses toe the line lies with Environmental Health Officers like me, in each local authority. And earlier this year I secured the very first criminal conviction under the Act.
The story began in May 2012, when I received a complaint that a 15 year old girl had suffered burns all over her body after using a sunbed in a private gym.
She was hospitalised for 24 hours, placed on a drip and – due to the severity of her burns – was off school for 15 days.
We don’t yet know whether she’s experiencing any long-term physical or mental effects. But we do know she’s said it was the first and last time she would ever use a sunbed.
In our first ever live Twitter interview – or Twinterview – we invited people to tweet us with questions on skin cancer – and we were kept busy with a wide range of great queries.
Our health expert Yinka Ebo was on hand to answer people’s queries:
Researchers have finally pinned down the link between UV radiation and gene faults that drive melanoma. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
We all need a bit of sunshine in our lives – something that’s often lacking in the Great British Summer.
But while UV light (radiation) from the sun helps our bodies to make vitamin D, which is vital for building healthy bones, there’s a dark side to UV. It damages our DNA – the genetic ‘instruction manual’ in all our cells – which increases the risk of skin cancer.
Researchers have shown that eight out of 10 cases of malignant melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer – are caused by getting too much UV, either from the sun or sunbeds. There’s also good evidence from population studies to show that getting sunburned at any age doubles the risk of developing melanoma later in life, and people who have the highest levels of UV exposure also have a higher skin cancer risk.
But up until now, there’s been an inconvenient problem for researchers studying precisely how UV-induced DNA damage leads to skin cancer: the major gene faults known to be involved in melanoma don’t actually show the hallmarks of UV damage. And because UV can cause such widespread damage throughout our genome, it’s been hard to pin down exactly which other genes might be involved in the disease.
Thanks to the advent of high-tech genome sequencing technology, this conundrum may have now been solved by two research teams in the US. Their results prove beyond doubt that UV-induced genetic damage can drive the development of melanoma, and highlight important new targets for future treatments for the disease.
Let’s take a closer look at what they found.
Researchers are homing in on the ‘stem cells’ that seem to drive some forms of cancer (Image courtesy of Science/AAAS)
Biology has its share of contentious issues, and the existence of cancer ‘stem cells’ – treatment-resistant cells at the heart of a tumour – is certainly controversial.
We’ve written before about these enigmatic cells, but they’ve made the headlines again this week, so we wanted to re-visit the issue.
The headlines appeared thanks to the publication of three exciting research papers in top international journals, Science and Nature, which showed, in beautiful, fluorescent detail, the development of tumours from what look to be some form of ‘stem-like’ cell.
Let’s have a look at what the researchers did, and what it means.
Sunbeds increase the risk of skin cancer
We’ve known that using sunbeds can cause skin cancer for several years.
And this week this message became louder and clearer than ever before with the publication of the strongest evidence yet of the link between the tanning devices and skin cancer.
In this post we’ll look at some of what we already knew about sunbeds and skin cancer, what this new study adds, and what we should be doing about it.
Professor Phil Ingham, whose Cancer Research UK-funded work in the 1990s has led to a new skin cancer drug
The course of drug development never did run smooth. Drug development pipelines – like the X-Factor – are littered with thousands of ‘hopefuls’ who fail to make the cut.
Very few drugs survive the arduous journey from bench to bedside, and those that do often emerge ten to twenty years later, bearing little resemblance to their former selves.
In fact, only about one in ten drugs initially tested in patients make it through to routine use. So it’s always good news when an experimental drug makes it all the way through the difficult journey of tests and clinical trials.
As we reported this morning, vismodegib – a skin cancer drug that our work helped shape – is described as “the greatest advance in therapy yet seen for this disease” in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine – extremelyexciting news.
So in the latest of our ‘High-Impact Science’ blog posts, we’d like to tell the story of Professor Phil Ingham, and how his fundamental research in fruit flies and fish evolved into a drug that could revolutionise treatment for patients with advanced basal cell carcinoma – a type of skin cancer.