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International Journal of Cancer

Letter to the Editor

Relationship between Sunbed Use and Melanoma Risk
in a Large Case-Control Study in the United Kingdom

Tell the TruthDear Editor,
A systematic review of 19 studies reported a 15% increased risk of melanoma
(95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00-1.31) associated with ever use of sunbeds 

A recent Australian study by Cust et al demonstrated an increased risk of early-onset
melanoma(<40 years) associated with ever use of sunbeds (adjusted odds ratio (OR)
1.41, 95%CI 1.01-1.96)2. Concurrently with the Australian study and using the same
questionnaire weinvestigated the relationship between sunbed use and melanoma at
any age in the UnitedKingdom. A similar estimate in the UK, which has higher sunbed
usage, would imply thatsunbed usage is a major etiological factor for melanoma.

Nine hundred and fifty-nine population-ascertained incident melanoma cases diagnosed
September 2000-December 2005 (age 17-76 years at diagnosis, 22% <40 years at
diagnosis), 513 population-ascertained controls and 174 sibling controls were recruited to
a case-control study whereby comprehensive sun exposure data, including a life-long
residence calendar, were collected as described previously3. Participants were asked about
sunbed or sunlamp use (ever versus never) and about locations they were used. Data were
collected on age at first and last use and number of lifetime sessions. Years since first use
was calculated and these variables were categorized as presented by Cust et al: never, <25 ,
≥25 years; none, 1-10, >10 sessions; never, ≤4, >4 & ≤14, >14 years respectively. A proxy
for sun sensitivity phenotype (categorized as sun-sensitive or not sun-sensitive) was
derived, as described previously3.

As far as possible, we repeated the analyses as reported by Cust et al. Spearman
correlations, Wilcoxon rank-sum tests and Pearson chi-squared tests were performed for
pair-wise associations. ORs and 95% CIs were calculated from unconditional logistic
regression models using data from cases and population-ascertained controls to assess the
sunbed variables as predictors of melanoma. Population controls were significantly older
than cases (median age diagnosis/interview 58 and 53 years respectively, p<0.0001) and
more educated (Χ2(3)=6.9, p=0.03). Cases were significantly more likely to have family
history of melanoma in first or second degree relatives compared with controls (Χ2(1)=8.0,
p=0.01). The primary analyses comparing cases and population controls were therefore
adjusted for age (examined as a trend over quartiles), sex, highest educational level
(primary/secondary school, sixth form/vocational training, university/post graduate
examined as a trend), sun sensitivity phenotype, self reported family history in 1st or 2nd
degree relatives (none, any) and cumulative lifetime total sun exposure (examined as a
trend over quartiles).

These analyses were repeated in the subset of 157 cases with
matched siblings using conditional logistic regression models, adjusted for all of the above
listed factors except family history. We also performed some subgroup analyses stratifying
by the factors defined by Cust et al (sex, age at diagnosis/interview, sun sensitivity
phenotype, nevi, lifetime total sun exposure) and also average number of sunburns during
lifetime. In our case-control study3 we found the sun exposure measure most associated
with risk was a protective effect of regular weekend sun exposure. We therefore repeated
the analyses adjusting for this measure but there was no effect on the results (data not

The locations where sunbeds were used were private home (54%), tanning salons (34%),
gyms/spas (32%), hairdressers/beauty salons (13%) and hospital/medical facilities (9%).
In analyses considering cases and population controls, younger age was associated with
number of sessions (rho=-0.37, p<0.0001) and ever versus never use (means 49 and 60
years respectively, p<0.0001). Females reported a higher number of sessions compared
with males (p<0.0001) and 57% of females reported ever use compared with 38% of males
(Χ2(1)=52.0, p<0.0001). Sun sensitivity phenotype and educational level were not
associated with sunbed use.

In multiple regression analyses, ever-use of sunbeds was not a significant risk factor for
melanoma (adjusted OR 1.06, 95%CI 0.83-1.36, Table 1). Age at first use of sunbeds
showed a small non-significant increased risk for use <25 years compared with never use
(OR 1.16, 95%CI 0.84-1.62), as did age at last use <25 years (OR 1.49, 95%CI 0.95-2.34).
Number of sessions and years since first use did not show an increasing trend effect on
melanoma risk.

The secondary analyses comparing cases with sibling controls gave an OR of 1.10 (95%CI
0.63-1.94) for ever versus never use (Table 1). Having >10 sessions conferred an OR of 1.27
compared with never use (95%CI 0.63-2.55, ptrend 0.54). If we further examine number of
sessions categorized according to our controls distribution (none, 1-20, >20), having >20
sessions conferred an OR of 1.49 compared with never use (95%CI 0.70-3.17, ptrend 0.35).
Age at first use and years since first use showed no significant associations with melanoma
risk. We found no effects in subgroup analyses, melanoma site-specific analyses or when
separating hospital/medical exposures from home exposures (data not shown), though our
study had low power to detect these associations.

Facts and Truth are Out!Therefore, we have not found any evidence of a relationship between sunbed use and melanoma risk
(OR 1.06, 95%CI 0.83-1.36 for ever use). Cust et al reported an effect of ever use on early-onset melanomas (OR 1.41, 95%CI 1.01-1.96). A test for the difference between the two ORs was not statistically significant (p=0.18). Cust et al reported a stronger effect for age at first sunbed use <25 years, however our study was underpowered to address these specific relationships. Our study had 85% power to detect an OR of 1.4 (assuming a binary factor with exposure frequency of 45% amongst controls, 5% significance level) but was underpowered to detect small effects. Two UK studies conducted more than 20 years ago reported significant increased risks for ever sunbed use with relative risks of 2.9 in both studies4, 5. Three more recent UK studies demonstrated small non-significant increased risks for ever use6-8. Our study has a similar finding which could indicate an effect of sunbeds, but could also be due to confounding with other UV exposures. In summary, we have found no evidence for sunbed use as a risk factor for melanoma in the UK; although we cannot exclude a small effect of ever sunbed use, nor risk
associated with use early in life, we can exclude a large effect.
Yours sincerely,
Faye Elliott

Faye Elliott1, Mariano Suppa1,2, May Chan1, Susan Leake1, Birute Karpavicius1,
Sue Haynes1,Jennifer H Barrett1, D Timothy Bishop1 and Julia A Newton-Bishop1
1 Section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine,
University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
2 Department of Dermatology, University of L'Aquila, L'Aquila, Italy
Corresponding author Faye Elliott
Section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics,
Leeds Cancer Research UK Centre
Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine,
Cancer Genetics Building
St James's Hospital, Beckett Street, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK
Tel +44 113 2066970 Fax +44 113 2340183
e-mail: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


1. The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other
skin cancers: A systematic review. Int J Cancer 2007;120:1116-22.
2. Cust AE, Armstrong BK, Goumas C, Jenkins MA, Schmid H, Hopper JL, Kefford RF,
Giles GG, Aitken JF, Mann GJ. Sunbed use during adolescence and early adulthood is
associated with increased risk of early-onset melanoma. Int J Cancer 2011;128:2425-35.
3. Newton-Bishop JA, Chang YM, Elliott F, Chan M, Leake S, Karpavicius B, Haynes S,
Fitzgibbon E, Kukalizch K, Randerson-Moor J, Elder DE, Bishop DT, et al. Relationship
between sun exposure and melanoma risk for tumours in different body sites in a large
case-control study in a temperate climate. Eur J Cancer 2011;47:732-41.
4. Adam SA, Sheaves JK, Wright NH, Mosser G, Harris RW, Vessey MP. A case-control
study of the possible association between oral contraceptives and malignant melanoma. Br
J Cancer 1981;44:45-50.
5. Swerdlow AJ, English JS, MacKie RM, O'Doherty CJ, Hunter JA, Clark J, Hole DJ.
Fluorescent lights, ultraviolet lamps, and risk of cutaneous melanoma. Bmj 1988;297:647-
6. Bataille V, Winnett A, Sasieni P, Newton Bishop JA, Cuzick J. Exposure to the sun
and sunbeds and the risk of cutaneous melanoma in the UK: a case-control study. Eur J
Cancer 2004;40:429-35.
7. Dunn-Lane J, Herity B, Moriarty MJ, Conroy R. A case control study of malignant
melanoma. Ir Med J 1993;86:57-9.
8. MacKie RM, Freudenberger T, Aitchison TC. Personal risk-factor chart for
cutaneous melanoma. Lancet 1989;2:487-90.

The letter can be read in full with the table of results at: 

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