The difficulty of slowing the rise in skin cancer cases is revealed in a new study, the results were released on 16th Aug. It shows those many in the South East to be unaware of the risks, failing to protect themselves or their children, and unable to recognise potentially harmful symptoms. It also shows that men are significantly less able to identify changes to the skin which should prompt medical attention. The figures come as data from Nuffield Health’s UK hospitals show a 16% rise in skin cancer cases among the young (16-34) since 2007.

The figures from a survey of 2086 people in the UK by YouGov for Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest health charity, show that less than half (45%) of people living in the South East believe their personal risk of skin cancer to be low or non existent. Just over half (53%) said they thought teenagers and young adults (16-24) are at risk, despite skin cancer being the second most common cancer in this age group.* Experts say confusion surrounds a disease which killed more than 2,700 people last year in the UK.*
• Less than half (45%) thought those aged 55-64 are at risk, despite recent figures showing rates of melanoma have trebled in the over 50s in the past 30 years.*
• Only four in ten (40%) knew those aged 65+ are at risk – the highest risk group for late stage melanoma*.

People in the region also struggle to recognise signs that should trigger a visit to a doctor. Although just over two thirds (61%) of people in the South East said they were confident they could identify potentially harmful symptoms, less than a third (32%) were able to recognise five classic symptoms*. Nationally, men were significantly less able to do so; just over a quarter (27%), compared to four in ten (44%) of women.

A sun tan is still seen as a sign of health and wellbeing in the region, with nearly half (46%) saying they look healthier and a fifth (20%) saying they look more attractive. Experts say repeated sunburn significantly increases the risk of skin cancer later in life. Despite this, over a third (34%) of people in the South East say they burn once a year or more, while nearly one in six (15%) of those with school aged children say their children burn once a year or more often. More than one in ten (11%) people admitted to ‘binge sunbathing’, saying they take every possible opportunity to spend time in the sun.

Almost a quarter (24%) in the region say they never use sun cream in the UK – one of the highest figures regionally in Britain – while around a quarter (28%) use it only occasionally on sunny days but not all. 16% said it isn’t necessary in Britain, One in five (20%) said it was too much hassle to use more frequently, while for others – 12% – it is too expensive. Nearly one in five (19%) with school aged children said they don’t use it on their children because their children don’t want to use it.

However, more than three quarters (77%) who exposed themselves to the sun or sun beds said they would reconsider if they believed they were at risk, suggesting further public awareness campaigns are necessary.

Mr Paul Banwell, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Nuffield Health Brighton & Haywards Health Hospitals, said: “There is an inherent naivety among people in the UK about the risks of skin cancer. Because we live in a climate with relatively little sunshine and lots of rain people believe they are not at risk, but this is a fallacy. These are often the people who fail to protect themselves in the sun, yet who later on in life are utterly shocked to discover they are suffering the consequences. The biggest predictor for skin cancer later in life is sun burn when you are young; whether it materialises in your early 20s or in your 60s. Sadly, sun awareness and skin checks are not part of our education, and this needs to be addressed as a priority”

Dr Walayat Hussain, Consultant Dermatologist & Dermatological Surgeon at Nuffield Health Leeds, said: “Skin cancer can affect anyone at any time and can be a particularly aggressive disease. Unfortunately, awareness is generally low, so that by the time a patient is referred they may have been living with the disease, undiagnosed for some time. A skin check by a specialist Consultant Dermatologist is painless and quick and should be part of the routine of anyone who spends lots of time outside. Being familiar with what’s on your skin means you will notice any small changes and seek early treatment if necessary.”