A mother-of-two has called for a ban on sunbeds after being diagnosed with skin cancer.
Sarah Brookes believes her tanning sessions are to blame and her doctors have said there may be a link.
The 41-year-old from Bradford, West Yorkshire, agreed to a course of ten treatments for a friend’s wedding six years ago.
She has now been diagnosed with advanced malignant melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and she believes sunbeds are responsible.
She told the Daily Mail: ‘The irony is I have always avoided the sun and family used to call me The Vampire because I was always so white.
‘I’ve always slathered sun cream on my children.’
‘I didn’t want a spray tan because I am allergic to skincare products and make-up and didn’t want to flare up for the wedding.’
Sunbed use in the UK is often thought of as a safer way to get a tan.
However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified UV-emitting tanning devices as ‘carcinogenic to humans’, in the same category as smoking and asbestos.
It also says there is sufficient evidence to show that sunbeds are a cause of melanoma, the risk being higher to people who begin to use under the age of 30.
Sarah says that when she went to the salon, she wasn’t given any warning information or told to wear sun cream.
In 2016, her son Morgan, now 15, noticed Sarah’s ear was bleeding and a pharmacist suggested it was an infected spot.
Four months later, Sarah went to her GP after her mother noticed that the spot was now a lump.
She was referred to St Luke’s Hospital, Bradford, and told she needed a biopsy.
It was confirmed Sarah, who lives with husband Darren and sons Morgan and Mason, 12, had malignant melanoma which had spread to the lymph nodes.
She had a series of operations to remove the tumour and lymph nodes, one of which involved an incision from her chin across to her ear and then down to her collarbone.
She recalled: ‘I woke up and soon the pain hit – as did my questions about why this was happening to me.
‘I kept thinking: how on earth did I get skin cancer?’
‘I’d always avoided the sun. I’d never burnt as a child. The cancer had started on my ear but I’d always had long hair covering my ears. It seemed impossible.’
Six days later, Sarah went home, then started a four-week course of radiotherapy during which time she put her cancer down to the ten tanning sessions.
Her cancer team have told her this is a ‘possibility’.
Around 2,000 Britons die from melanoma each year and the numbers are increasing.
Dr Christian Aldridge, a dermatologist at Prince Charles Hospital, Merthyr Tydfil, an advisor to charity Melanoma UK and chair of the All Wales Specialist Advisory Group for Skin Cancer said: ‘The rise is likely to be due partly to increased reporting and better data collection – but intense sun exposure abroad and significant burning as children also acts as a well-known risk factor for melanoma, as well as the increasing trend of using sunbeds, particularly among young women.’
‘The issue is the amount of sunbed usage at a young age which essentially accelerates the lifetime UV exposure. Obviously no one uses sunscreen when using sunbeds as the intention is to tan,’ he says.
He added: ‘UV light is a well-known carcinogen and is the biggest environmental factor implicated in the development of skin cancer.
‘Sunbeds have been shown to emit UV radiation as powerful as UV levels found in the Mediterranean. Scientific evidence already exists demonstrating a link between sunbed use and melanoma.
‘It is difficult to quantify risks for 10 sunbed sessions but it is likely that risk is cumulative in combination with natural sun exposure.’
Last November an MRI scan revealed Sarah had a brain tumour, which has now spreading to the lining of her brain.
She is having targeted therapy – where drugs are used to target specific genes or proteins to stop cancer growing.
The side effects mean she can no longer work as a progress support leader in a school and has had to stop driving. She said: ‘My sons have been amazing.
‘Darren has to work, so they walk to the shop, cook my dinner, get me my medication. But then the guilt comes: I believe I brought this on myself for using tanning beds. I’ll always regret it.’
‘If I could turn back time I would have refused the sunbeds and gone to that wedding with my “pasty face”.
Sunbeds are banned in Australia and Brazil and Sarah has backed a petition to Parliament calling for a ban here too.
Melanoma UK are also backing a ban.
In a statement, Gary Lipman, the chairman of the Sunbed Association, said: ‘There is no comparison between sunbeds in Australia and Europe and there is no unflawed scientific evidence demonstrating a causal relationship between responsible sunbed use and melanoma.
‘Anyone looking to tan using a sunbed should always use a salon in membership of The Sunbed Association where they will be screened for any contra-indications and receive advice from trained staff about how to tan responsibly.
‘We do not accept the assertions made in the campaign by or on behalf of Melanoma UK.’