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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 May, 2003, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
Skin cancer risk 'still ignored'
Woman sunbathing
Sunbathing is a health risk

Many people fail to protect themselves from the sun even though they know that they may be risking skin cancer, research suggests.

A survey commissioned by the charity Cancer Research UK found that 75% of the 1,850 people questioned were aware that exposure to the sun could result in skin cancer.

However, less than 30% use shade, and less than 40% bother to apply high factor sunscreen.

The survey also found:

  • Only 6% of those surveyed avoid the midday sun
  • Fewer than 5% cover up with hats, t-shirts and sunglasses at midday
  • Just 0.3% said they would have their suspect moles checked by a doctor

How to avoid problems
Stay in the shade between 11am-3pm
Make sure you never burn
Always cover up with a T shirt, wide brimmed hat and sunglasses
Use factor 15 plus sunscreen
Take extra care with children
Report any mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to your GP

This despite the fact that more than 65,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year.

The survey found that women were more aware of the potential risk than men, and that middle-aged people are better informed that young or elderly people.

Seven out of ten people still think suntans make them look healthier or more attractive, when in fact a tan is actually a sign of damage to the skin.

Dr Charlotte Proby, consultant dermatologist at Cancer Research UK, said: "The results of this survey are concerning.

"Although it is encouraging that many people are aware of the risk of skin cancer, too many of them are still not protecting themselves against the sun's damaging rays by failing to stay in the shade, cover up or apply high factor sunscreen.

"It is particularly worrying that so many of the young people questioned in the survey are being slow to change their bad habits, because it is skin damage early in life that is most likely to result in skin cancer later on."

Australian experience

Sara Hiom, co-ordinator of Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign, said Australia had shown it was possible to get people to heed safety warnings about over-exposure to the sun.

A high-profile campaign encouraging people to cover up and wear sun block has resulted in a fall in the number of skin cancer cases in the country.

Professor Siān Griffiths, president of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine in London, has experienced skin cancer herself.

She said: "I was working as the Director of Public Health for Oxfordshire when I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, and was therefore well aware of the steps I should have taken to be safer in the sun. But like many people I didn't actually do it.

"Having skin cancer was a very traumatic experience for me and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

"Thankfully it is largely preventable by being sensible in the sun."

Most treatable

Nine out of ten skin cancers are easily treatable and unlikely to spread. They are called non-melanoma skin cancer and there are more than 59,000 new cases registered each year in the UK.

Malignant melanoma, which accounts for almost one in ten skin cancers, is the most serious type of the disease and may be fatal.

Around 6,000 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with malignant melanoma. It usually develops in cells in the outer layer of the skin but can spread to other parts of the body.

The BBC's Glenda Cooper
"Fewer than half of people apply enough suncream"

Staying safe in the sun
11 May 03  |  Health
Brits' skin cancer death risk
27 Mar 03  |  Health
Britons warned over skin cancer
06 Aug 02  |  Health
Skin cancers
17 Mar 00  |  C-D
Cream for skin cancer
20 Nov 02  |  Health
Skin cancer 'gene' breakthrough
10 Jun 02  |  Health

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