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Thursday, September 10, 1998 Published at 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK


Cancer risk doubles beside the seaside

Life by the sea encourages time in the sun

People who live in coastal towns are at much greater risk of getting skin cancer.

Research carried out in Suffolk found that people who lived close to the sea were approximately 50% more likely than inland residents to be affected by the cancers.

Skin cancers cause around 2,000 deaths in the UK every year and can be triggered by over-exposure to the sun. There are three main types, of which only one, the malignant melanoma, is a serious threat to life.

The other two types, basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, are curable, but can pose serious problems if left untreated.

Surprise disparity

One theory for the disparity is that people living by the sea are more likely to spend time outdoors and hence more time in the sun.

The finding is based on a study of the number of cases of skin cancer registered in Suffolk between 1987 and 1995.

When Suffolk Health Authority's department of public health examined the figures by area, it found that five council wards on the coast produced 618 cases of skin cancer compared with 99 in five similar wards inland.

Once population differences were taken into account this worked out as an "about 50%" higher risk for the coastal residents, said Dr Brian Keeble, Suffolk's director of public health.

He expressed surprise at the results but doubted it was a coincidence.

Sun factor

Dr Keeble said: "Exposure to the sun is the key factor in determining this type of cancer.

[ image: Sun block protects skin]
Sun block protects skin
"We need to make sure people take skin cancer seriously and we need to be putting our efforts into this - we need to be down at the seaside to get this message across.

"We must redouble our efforts to educate the public."

A spokeswoman for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund agreed that more time in the sun was the probable cause of the extra cases on the coast.

But she pointed out that there was not necessarily anything wrong with current health education as far as skin cancer was concerned.

"The message is getting across about taking care in the sun," she said. "But people coming up with cancers now could be the result of behaviour 20 years ago.

"It takes time to get the message across. Look at how long it took with smoking."

Shade Crusade is a campaign group that promotes skin cancer awareness. Its director, Eddie Dahl, lives on the Suffolk coast and supported Dr Keeble's conclusions.

"People who move to the coast tend to be outdoor types," he said. "There is also often a sea breeze, so on very hot days the temperature here is cooler, encouraging people to spend more time in the sun."

Mr Dahl also believes one simple move would help reduce the number of cases of skin cancer.

"We need to make sun block more available and make it cheaper," he said.

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