BY SEAN BURKE
Health professionals are concerned that Australians using an illegal tanning drug are exposed to risks of cancer.
Melanotan is a synthetic chemical which mimics the hormone responsible for the production of the pigment cell melanin, resulting in a tan without the risk of sun over-exposure.
Health professionals are concerned about the drug because it is understood to activate the cells that become cancerous in malignant melanoma.
The drug enlarges freckles and increases mole size, which dermatologists say may lead to problems in diagnosing melanoma.
Melanotan was first made to combat skin cancer, but Mark Strickland from the Cancer Council of Western Australia said the council could not approve the drug and it should be avoided. “We do not endorse Melanotan as a preventative measure against skin cancer as we can’t be sure of the long-term effects,” he said.
The commercial sale of Melanotan is illegal in Australia but importing the drug is legal because it is not a controlled substance. A 10mg vial of Melanotan sells for $55 and holds 10-20 injections.
Users inject themselves daily until the desired tan is reached then reduce to 2-3 injections a week.
Fremantle Hospital clinical Associate Professor Kurt Gebauer said if more people started to have a dramatic change in their moles that could lead to an increase in unnecessary surgery.
“We can see nothing positive about having this drug available,” he said.
“Any change to your biology can’t be a good thing.”
Professor Gebauer said the idea of the drug being used as a protection against the sun was not logical.
Side effects from the drug include depression, nausea, high blood pressure, panic attacks, and risks associated with injection methods.
Published in the Western Independent October 2010