'I've battled skin cancer for 15 years after using sunbeds as a teenager'

Caroline Madden started using sunbeds as a teenager. (Getty Images/SWNS)
Caroline Madden started using sunbeds as a teenager. (Getty Images/SWNS)

A woman has issued a warning about young people using sunbeds after she has battled two bouts of skin cancer over the past 15 years.

Caroline Madden, 58, says she spent her late teens and twenties using a sunbed monthly without knowing of its potential harmful effects.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, just one sunbed session can increase your risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer by 67% and basal cell skin cancer by 29%.

It adds that sunbedding sessions can also increase your risk of melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – by 20%, and that using a sunbed before the age of 35 increases your risk by up to 60%.

Madden, a personal assistant from Welton, East Yorks, started using sunbeds at roughly the age of 17 when they were put in her local health club.

"Everyone I knew used sunbeds back then. I think they were in the local gym," Madden says. "You just booked it and went on, nobody ever spoke to you about them or anything. I maybe went once a month for a few years – dozens of times."

She says her chiropodist initially spotted a suspicious mole at the base of her leg in 2009, which turned out to be stage three malignant melanoma.

Madden has had several moles cut out after battling skin cancer for 15 years. (SWNS)
Madden has had several moles cut out after battling skin cancer for 15 years. (SWNS)

"I had an appointment at a very general clinic at the local hospital. I went in and waited my turn, and then they said, 'You’re not leaving’," she explains.

"They cut it out and sent that off to be tested, and I think probably a couple of weeks later, they called me back in and it was already stage three malignant melanoma. So then the slippery slope started of surgery, issues, treatments."

Madden was later advised to have her lymphatic system removed from the waist down, and took part in a trial for a new medicine.

By February 2018, she had received the all clear, but it then reemerged in May of the same year in her pelvis.

Six years on, Madden is now classed as having ‘no evidence’ of cancer in her body, although she had a mole removed from her back just last month.

"You just have to hope it doesn’t hit a major organ, as obviously, you’re then stage four, but there’s no way of knowing if or when that might happen," she explains. "So you just watch and wait – and keep your fingers crossed."

While there is no way of knowing what caused her skin cancer, Madden believes her sunbed usage contributed to it.

"Everyone who smokes thinks they’re going to be the one who doesn’t get lung cancer, and it’s the same with any sort of sunburn or sunbed use," she says.

A woman legs in a tanning bed with a blue hue.
Cancer charities have warned against sunbed use. (Getty Images)

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said Madden's case illustrates the dangers exposure to high levels of UV rays could cause.

"Sunbeds give off ultraviolet radiation (UV), and there is a proven link between UV and skin cancer," Sharp says. "Almost nine out of 10 melanoma skin cancers in the UK could be prevented by staying safe in the sun and avoiding sunbeds.

"There is no such thing as safe tanning. Some people are at more risk of skin cancer than others, including those with lighter skin tones, lots of freckles and moles, and a history of burning easily, but everyone who uses sunbeds increases their cancer risk."

Gary Lipman, chairman of The Sunbed Association (TSA), says their use was well-regulated in the UK – and the public should be more mindful of not getting burnt.

"If only UV exposure from the sunshine was as well-regulated as professional sunbed use, we would see far less incidence levels of burning and it is burning that increases the risk of melanoma, not responsible tanning," Lipman says.

"Professional sunbeds are already well regulated in the UK with legislation prohibiting use by under-18s, a British Standard dictates the maximum UV output of a sunbed as well as provides guidance on the maximum number of sessions allowed per year and that appropriate protective eyewear must be worn."

Recent data from the charity Melanoma Focus found that one in four (28%) of Brits admit to using sunbeds, a figure which rises to 43% of 18 to 25-year-olds.

According to Cancer Research UK, around 16,744 people are diagnosed with melanoma in the UK each year, and there are around 2,341 deaths due to the disease. It adds that 86% of all cases are preventable.

Macmillan Cancer Support says the best way to prevent skin cancer is protecting your skin from the sun with clothing and hats, and by using SPF sunscreen.

Additional reporting by SWNS.