Melanoma survivor praises new sunbed law

By Kate Shuttleworth

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A survivor of melanoma believed to be linked to sunbed use has praised a move to tighten controls on operators and ban under 18-year-olds from using sunbeds.

Kathryn Wilson, 42, has been treated for the most deadly form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, and strongly suspects her disease was caused by a sunbed.

"I can't prove it, but about 10 years before being diagnosed I went to a sunbed at a hairdresser. I stayed in there for 25 minutes and was severely burned."

She was swollen all over her body and had blisters everywhere, and later complained to the salon, the Tauranga woman said.

She said she noticed blood on her bed sheet three years ago and was diagnosed with melanoma on her back and in lymph nodes under her right arm.

She had not noticed an ulcerated lesion on her back.

In 2010 she had surgery to remove the affected lymph nodes and an 18cm-long, 3cm-wide section of skin and tissue on her back.

Mrs Wilson needs regular checks, but now has no sign of cancer.

A new law banning under-18-year-olds from using sunbeds and restricting fair-skinned people from using sunbeds will be in place by the end of the year.

The Government has decided to progress a members bill that is still in the ballot, by amending the Health Act to include parts of National MP Paul Hutchison's member's bill.

Details on how the ban will be enforced are still being worked out by the Ministry of Health.

Mr Hutchison said it was "good" the bill would progress this year, and not remain in the members ballot.

He did not know how the fairness of skin would be assessed.

"Highly fair-skinned people ... that are ginger haired and freckled, are likely to be more prone to problems, so that within the standards it would require very strict modulation of informed consent, and if someone said they don't give a stuff 'I want this done', then they would be required to give lesser doses for lesser periods of time.

"That is yet to be worked out."

Mr Hutchison said the new rules would help to prevent avoidable harm from ultraviolet (UV) radiation through the use of solaria, sunlamps, sunbeds or tanning units, by placing restrictions on the quantity of UV light used and restricting who could use the devices.

Currently a voluntary code calls for no use for under 18-year-olds and exclusion of people with pale skin who always burn.

Surveys by Consumer New Zealand of sunbed operators has shown there is a high level of non-compliance.

Mr Hutchison said operators who break the rules could be prosecuted or fined.

Indoor Tanning Association of New Zealand chair Kirsty Ethynes said the ban would not impact on good operators.

"Good operators will already be following the voluntary standards, and that's in line with the standards."

Ms Ethynes said she was concerned by the use of the World Health Organisation statistic that found the risk of skin cancer increased by 75 per cent if a sunbed is used.

"It's very misleading. That's a relative risk compared to everybody else - it's not an absolute".

Owner of Sunset Tan in Auckland's Mount Eden, Matt Adams, said the change was a good move, but could force teenagers to be more reckless.

"If they desire to have a tan, they've got two ways to do it: they can either do it in a controlled environment under the supervision of an expert, or they'll go out into the sun and cover themselves in baby oil and burn themselves to a cinder.

"I'm in support [of the tighter controls] because it will weed out some of the poor operators who don't seem to have much care or concern for their clients."

But Mr Adams said a blanket restriction wouldn't achieve anything.


A Ministry of Health survey released this week showed the number of sunbed operators in Auckland had almost halved in the last four years - dropping from 73 to 39 since 2009.

Sunbed use is associated with skin burns, premature ageing, corneal burns, cataracts, ocular melanoma and photo dermatitis.

New Zealand has one of the world's highest rates of melanoma, approximately 2200 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year and 320 people die.

The World Health Organisation reports the risk of skin cancer, particularly melanoma, increases by 75 per cent when sunbeds are used before the age of 30.


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