It finally feels like summer but, as many bare their skin to soak up the sun, so the need to take care increases. A number of cancer charities are warning of the worrying rise in cases of skin cancer associated with too much exposure to the sun.
The risk is particularly high for children as their skin is more sensitive to harmful rays. Dermatology experts report that sunburn in childhood can double the risk of skin cancer in later life. A report by the charity Skin Cancer UK, commissioned by a committee of MPs, identified that 40% of children have suffered sunburn while at school. Teachers are being urged to educate children of the risks and to encourage them to apply sunscreen and wear sunhats to protect them at school.
The problem is not limited to children – all age groups are affected. Cancer Research UK reports nearly a 20% increase in skin cancer in people aged between 20 and 49. For the first time ever the number of new cases in the over-55s in the UK has exceeded 10,000 in a year. The most deadly form, malignant melanoma, claims the lives of more than 2,000 people each year.
While many are aware that skin cancer is extremely serious, too little is being done to guard against the disease. The steady rise in the number of people taking overseas holidays in recent decades is thought to be one of the main reasons for the increase in skin cancer cases. Awareness of the disease does seem to be improving but behaviour is lagging. While many readily apply sunscreen abroad on holiday, they may not think to when they are outside for short periods during the day as part of their normal routine at home in the UK.
Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team warns: "The majority of skin cancer cases are believed to be avoidable by simple steps like applying effective sunscreen and staying in shade for the hours when the sun is at its strongest. The increase in reported cases of skin cancer is alarming, resulting in well over 100,000 hospital admissions a year and at a staggering cost to the NHS of around £100 million – and that excludes out-patient and GP appointments.
"The need for appropriate precautions to protect skin cannot be over-stated. We know from acting in numerous cases that early diagnosis and treatment are key to a positive outcome in cancer cases but more needs to be done to avoid the risk of skin cancer in the first place. Any skin cancer sufferer can explain that using sunscreen is infinitely preferable to contracting the disease."
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