Sunbed obsessed tanning addict hid oozing cancerous lump for years after docs said it was ‘nothing to worry about’

A SUNBED obsessed tanning addict hid a cancerous lump for years after doctors told her it was ‘nothing to worry about’.

Mairead Mcguire would use sunbeds three or four times a week and if she had a big night out coming up, she would use them everyday in preparation.

The 29-year-old had been using the beds for 13 years and only stopped when she was told she had developed a type of skin cancer.

Mairead, from Belfast, Ireland, was told she had basal cell carcinoma when she was 28-years-old, when she had been on her way to use a sunbed.

When she first noticed the lump on her head in 2018, she thought nothing of it and continued to use the beds for three months.

She explained: "I have naturally fair skin and like myself a lot more tanned so I started using the sunbeds at 15 and became obsessed.

"I was so addicted I couldn't even tell I was tanned anymore but other people would be saying 'look at the colour of you' – so I just kept doing it and doing it.

"I noticed a tiny lump on my head but I ignored it for a few months and kept going on the sunbed.”

She eventually went to the doctors, but the mum-of-two said they told her it was a ‘skin tag’.

She then went on to have it removed four times.

Mairead added: "The doctor removed it by freezing it off a few times but it kept growing back worse and it started growing rapidly, hurting and bleeding at the slightest touch.

"In the back of my head I worried it might be cancer but it didn't stop me from going on the sunbeds because the doctor said it was nothing to worry about.

"I was really self-conscious about the lump as it got bigger so I would wear my hair differently to hide it. I moved my parting over to that side so there was more hair to cover it."

But the lump became painful and she decided to go for a second opinion in September 2020.

It was then that she was told she had cancer.

Over exposure to UV light is the main cause of non-melanoma skin cancer. This comes from the sun, but also from sunbeds and sunlamps.

The Sun previously launched its Dying For A Tan campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of using sunbeds, which can raise your risk of skin cancer and cause premature ageing.

Symptoms of skin cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world.

Non-melanoma cancers are more common than melanomas, with 100,000 new cases being diagnosed every year in the UK.

The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that continues to persist after a few weeks, and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years.

Melanomas, on the other hand, is often characterised by a mole.

There are two common types of non-melanoma:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma (accounts for 75 per cent of skin cancers): usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a waxy appearance. It can also look like a red, scaly patch. There's sometimes some brown or black pigment within the patch. The lump slowly gets bigger and may become crusty, bleed or develop into a painless ulcer.
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma(accounts for the other 20 per cent): appears as a firm pink lump with a rough or crusted surface. There can be a lot of surface scale and sometimes even a spiky horn sticking up from the surface. The lump is often tender to touch, bleeds easily and may develop into an ulcer.


The most common sign is a new mole or a change in an existing mole.

In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one colour. The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed. Look out for a mole which changes progressively in shape, size and/or colour.

The ABCDE checklist should help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma:

  • Asymmetrical – melanomas have 2 very different halves and are an irregular shape
  • Border – melanomas have a notched or ragged border
  • Colours – melanomas will be a mix of 2 or more colours
  • Diameter – most melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter
  • Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes size over time is more likely to be a melanoma

Source: NHS

Around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK.

Mairead was left terrified at the prospect of missing her kids Miley-Rose, eight, and Reon, three grow up and she decided to quit sunbeds forever.

Mairead is now warning others about the dangers of sunbeds, after surgeons successfully removed her cancer in March this year.

Mairead said: "It started off really tiny and grew like a wart and just kept growing. Once Covid kicked in all I could do was send photos to the doctor.

"In a month it doubled in size and he said it didn't look right so he referred me as an emergency to a specialist and I was seen the next week.

"The dermatologist said it looked like it had too many blood vessels to be cancerous but removed it anyway and said they'd be in contact within two weeks if it was cancerous.

"They called as I was on my way to do another sunbed and told me it was cancer.

"I broke down in tears and called my mum to tell her and then turned around and went straight home.

"I had all sorts of thoughts going through my head – mainly I was terrified of not being there for my children."

Dermatologists found that Mairead's lump had grown to three centimetres in length and one centimetre in width – triple its initial size.

In March this year she was sent for surgery to remove the cancerous growth and spent the three-hour operation awake and numbed under local anesthetic.

Mairead said: "It was really scary and I had to go on my own because of Covid which made it even worse.

"The pain after surgery was terrible, I was bed-ridden for a week and the pain made me vomit because it was that bad.

"It's left a scar on my face and I'm quite self conscious about it because people are always going to see it when they look at my face but it's a reminder every day of how lucky I was.

"I was so lucky that the cancer grew on the outside of my head rather than the inside otherwise it could have been a lot worse."

The childcare assistant got the all clear from her skin cancer ordeal at a check up appointment four weeks after the operation.

Since her diagnosis she has never been on a sunbed again, instead sticking to fake tan, and hopes to encourage others to ditch the 'dangerous' tanning beds as well.

Mairead said: "I didn't realise how dangerous they actually are – I've heard about people getting skin cancer from using them but I never thought it would happen to me.

"Now it has happened to me and I've never used one since and never will again.

"My whole family used to be obsessed with them as well and now they've all stopped using them because it hit so close to home."

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