One in ten doctors admit to using sunbeds

A recent study, presented by researchers at the World Congress of Cancers of the Skin in Scotland, has shown that many British doctors take part in activities that put them at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

The researchers, from Sandwell and West Midlands Hospitals NHS Trust, Birmingham and North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, Carlisle, advocate that sun safety advice be made more widely available to medical professionals.

The study showed that a third of doctors demonstrated sun-seeking behaviours, such as sunbathing and tanning. 10 per cent of respondents admitted to using sunbeds, despite the fact that the link between skin cancer and sunbeds has been well documented. In 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, classified sunbeds as a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans), the same classification as given to tobacco.

The study reflected similar trends that previous research1 has revealed amongst the general public, in that female doctors reported more frequent sun-protective behaviours compared to their male colleagues. Despite their caution though, women were more likely to have more than one incidence of sunburn a year than men.

The study revealed that only one in three doctors has performed self examination of their skin in the last 12 months, despite recommendations from the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) to check skin monthly. Interestingly, a similar survey conducted by the BAD in 2013 showed that ordinary members of the public check their skin more frequently, with 43 per cent of the general public compared with 65 per cent of doctors responding that they have not examined their skin for signs for skin cancer.

Dr Jingyuan Xu, one of the researchers from Sandwell and West Midlands Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “The attitudes and behaviours of doctors don’t just impact on their own wellbeing, but can have an influence on how these messages are relayed to patients and the wider public. It’s very important that people are aware that ultraviolet radiation from the sun increases the risk of skin cancer, and that they understand the benefits of enjoying the sun safely.

“It is worrying that a large number of doctors are not looking after their skin in the sun, and only a third of them are checking their skin for cancer. This is a fairly simple thing to do and can make all the difference when it comes to catching potential skin cancers early.”

Matthew Gass of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “Most people enjoy spending time in the sun to one degree or another. However, it’s important to enjoy the sun responsibly, taking necessary precautions and avoiding getting sunburnt.

“It’s disappointing that some doctors are not following the advice that they should be passing on to others. Particularly worrying is the fact that 10 per cent of those questioned admitted to using sunbeds. We would hope by now that most doctors would recognise that if you are looking to get a tan, it’s much safer to get it from a bottle.

“It would be very interesting to see further studies in this area, with a larger sample size.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, with 13,348 people in the UK being diagnosed in 2011 and 2,209 deaths in the same year.

The study invited doctors from a range of specialities and training grades to answer an anonymous questionnaire, which resulted in 163 responses.

1 Ferlay J, Soerjomataram I, Ervik M, et al. GLOBOCAN 2012 v1.0, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 11 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2013. Available from:, accessed on 24 January 2014


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact: Matt Gass, Communications Officer, on 020 7391 6084 or at

If using this study, please ensure you mention that the study was released at the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin. 

The conference will be held in Edinburgh from September 3rd to 6th 2014, and is attended by approximately 1,000 UK and worldwide health professionals.

The World Congress on Cancers of the Skin 2014 was founded by The Skin Cancer Foundation, the international organization devoted solely to education, prevention, early detection, and prompt treatment of the world’s most common cancer. It is organised by the British Association of Dermatologists.


Study details:

Evaluation of sun exposure behaviour and use of sun protection among medical professionals.

Jingyuan Xu1, Kim Varma2

1Sandwell and West Midlands Hospitals NHS Trust, Birmingham, UK, 2North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, Carlisle, UK

Excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation has been identified as the most important modifiable risk factor for skin cancer. Physicians' individual attitudes and behaviour will not only impact personal wellbeing but also influence promotion of sun protection to others.

The study aims to look at the behaviours concerning sun exposure and its prevention among doctors across various specialties in the United Kingdom. No previous studies have been identified in the literature regarding the sun exposure behaviours among secondary care medical professionals.

Doctors were invited to participate in an anonymous questionnaire, which was available both in written and online format. 163 medical professionals completed the questionnaire. A third of doctors demonstrated sun-seeking behaviours and over 10% of medical professionals use tanning beds. Incidences of sunburn (more than 1 episode per year) was rated the highest amongst women, but interestingly female doctors also reported more frequent sun-protective behaviours compared to their male colleagues. More than 65% of medical professionals have never performed skin self-examination or had their skin examined by another healthcare professional.

Our findings illustrate that doctors engage in multiple skin cancer risk behaviours. A comprehensive approach to change behaviour requires exploration of attitudes and sun education should be highlighted among medical professionals and promoted within healthcare system.

About the BAD 

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) is the central association of practising UK dermatologists. Our aim is to continually improve the treatment and understanding of skin disease. The BAD provides free patient information on skin diseases and runs a number of high profile campaigns, including Sun Awareness, which runs from May to September annually and includes national Sun Awareness Week in May. Website:

Published on September 4, 2014