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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 09:10 GMT
Brits' skin cancer death risk
Woman sunbathing
Sunbathers often fail to use sun creams
Skin cancer claims the lives of more Britons than Australians each year, even though fewer people are diagnosed with the condition in the UK.

Cancer experts revealed the difference in death rates from malignant melanoma, the form of skin cancer most likely to be fatal.

They said Australians were much more aware of the potentially damaging effects of the sun, and more likely to spot changes to moles, so cancers could be detected earlier.

Statistics show that in a year,7,850 Australians were diagnosed with malignant melanoma compared to 5,990 Britons, but Australia saw 1,000 deaths in compared to 1,600 in the UK.

The UK's population is three times the size of Australia's.

It is now second nature to Australians to protect themselves in the sun
Professor Robert Burton, Australian Government adviser

Malignant melanoma, accounts for less than one in 10 skin cancers. It usually develops in cells in the outer layer of the skin but can spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is the third most common cancer among people aged 15 to 39, but if it is detected early it can be successfully treated.

Spotting symptoms

Cancer Research UK said the disparity was due to Brits taking less care in the sun.

They are launching a SunSmart campaign, aimed at making people aware of how they can protect themselves.

Posters, leaflets and information cards will be sent to health professionals, doctors' surgeries and schools as part of the campaign.

Dermatologists say people are often fail to recognise symptoms of skin cancer early enough, leading to needless deaths.

They say people must check any moles they have on their body so they can spot any specific changes.

Shifting attitudes

Dr Charlotte Proby, a consultant dermatologist for Cancer Research UK, says: "Malignant melanoma is a preventable cancer.

"We need the public to be aware of what they can do to help prevent the disease."

She added: "The success of sun awareness campaigns in Australia is self evident. People there have been educated primarily to protect themselves in the sun.

"They are also taught to take notice of any unusual skin growths or changes in moles and to have them checked by a doctor. This means where there is disease it is diagnosed early and can be successfully treated."

Professor Robert Burton, senior adviser on cancer to the Australian Government, says: "In the last 20 years, since SunSmart was launched in Australia, we have been able to shift attitudes and behaviour so that it is now second nature to Australians to protect themselves in the sun.

"SunSmart draws attention to the dangers of the sun and the need to protect yourself from skin cancer.

"In Australia today more than 90% of melanomas diagnosed are curable because they are picked up early.

"Skin cancer incidence is falling in Australians born after 1950 although it is still rising in the elderly."

Simple steps

Professor Mike Richards, National Cancer Director, said: "Skin cancer is a serious and increasing public health concern and studies suggest that sunburn can double our risk of developing the disease.

"But it is easily preventable. By taking a few simple steps - like wearing a hat and T-shirt and staying out of the sun around midday we can significantly reduce our risk of skin cancer."

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