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Thursday, May 28, 1998 Published at 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK

Health: Latest News

Skin cancer threat to children

Children spend one quarter of their time at school outside

BBC Health Correspondent Richard Hannaford reports
Schools are being issued with guidelines on ways of protecting their pupils from skin cancer during the summer. The move has been prompted by a big increase in the number of skin cancer cases.

Four out of ten children get sunburned every year, according to the Health Education Authority, and studies now show that childhood sunburn can be linked to skin cancer later in life.

Playing outside

[ image: The HEA wants shaded areas in all playgrounds]
The HEA wants shaded areas in all playgrounds
The HEA's Christopher New said: "Children spend a quarter of their time at school outside. We need to ensure that parents and teachers are aware of the need to take simple precautions in the sun.

"As over exposure to the sun and episodes of sunburn under the age of 15 years are major risk factors for skin cancer, teaching children about the need to avoid burning is vital in our attempt to stop the increase in cases of skin cancer," he said.

Dr Rob Hicks from the HEA says "skin cancer is avoidable"
The authority, which advises the government on health education issues, is launching an information pack for primary and secondary schools as part of its sun awareness week (1-7 June).

The guidelines ask schools to make sure there is plenty of shade in playgrounds and that children are encouraged to cover up and wear hats and sunscreen. They also suggest that outside activities should not be held in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are strongest.

Six bouts of sunburn

[ image: 40,000 people develop skin cancer every year]
40,000 people develop skin cancer every year
The medical research charity, the Cancer Research Campaign also encourages children to cover up in the sun. The Campaign's Director of Education Jean King said: "It is vital that children are protected ... There is worrying evidence that it takes six bouts of sunburn in childhood to double the risk of developing malignant melanoma later in life."

A junior school in Nottingham has recently taken the advice to heart after some persuasion from a concerned parent. The Jesse Gray school has made special hats, supplied by the Cancer Research Campaign, part of the school uniform. Mother of two, Jill Thorpe said: "I wanted to do something simple and effective and hats seemed like the best idea."

In recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people in Britain suffering from skin cancer. About 40,000 new cases are reported each year and malignant melanoma, the most serious form of the disease claims roughly 1,500 lives every year.

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