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Expert warns of skin cancer ‘time bomb’ as cases continue to rise

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by Cancer Research UK | News

2 May 2002

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A Cancer Research UK expert is warning that people are creating a ‘skin cancer timebomb’ for themselves because they think the sun is safer in the UK than it is abroad.

The warning comes as a survey carried out by Tesco – which is supporting Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign – has found while many people use high factor sun cream on foreign holidays, they do not use the same protection at home1.

Nearly six out of ten men and four out of ten women said they never use a protective cream during sunny periods in the UK.

Yet, around half said they had been burnt more in the UK than when abroad, and almost four out of ten people reported feeling surprised that they burned at home.

Dr Mark Birch-Machin, a Cancer Research UK skin cancer expert in Newcastle, says: “Most people know that too much sun exposure causes sunburn – but few people realise that the sun’s rays actually cause damage to the DNA in the skin. Accumulation of this damage can lead to a skin cancer time bomb.

“People are unaware of the very real risk posed by the sun in the UK and the damage it can cause to the skin’s DNA. We are carrying out research in Newcastle to find out how much damage has accumulated in people’s skin.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Cancer Information, says: “Tesco’s survey found that about eight out of ten people who burnt in the UK did so when they were involved in an outdoor activity rather than when they were actively sunbathing. It seems clear that people are underestimating the strength of the sun in the UK. We all need to cover up, not only when sunbathing but when playing sport or even just when we’re out shopping on a sunny day.”

The latest UK figures for skin cancer show that cases of malignant melanoma – the deadliest form of the disease – are continuing to rise, with an increase of four per cent on the previous year2.

Cancer Research UK is working with Tesco to promote the Be SunSmart awareness drive – which includes posters, leaflets and advice on skin cancer, sun lotion and moles.

Tesco Health and Beauty Director Sarah Baldock says: “This initiative between Tesco and Cancer Research UK is vital in terms of reaching our large customer base with the Be SunSmart messages. We are delighted to be able to provide a link to the community through our stores and are sure people will be glad the information is so accessible.”

Cancer Research UK lays out the following guidelines for taking care in the sun:

  • avoid the sun at its height (usually 11am-3pm);
  • use shade wherever possible;
  • take extra special care of children’s delicate skin;
  • babies under six months should never be put in the sun;
  • wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection;
  • cover up with tightly woven, loose fitting clothes: long sleeves, trousers, skirts;
  • always use a broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) with UVA protection, even if you have a tan;
  • avoid using sunbeds or tanning lamps;
  • check your skin regularly and report any unusual changes without any delay.

Cancer Research UK’s Acting Chief Executive, Sir Paul Nurse, says: “It’s not always easy to get the message across that the sun’s rays in the UK can be just as dangerous as they are abroad. I am very grateful to Tesco for supporting the Be Sunsmart campaign and for helping us to get the message out to a wider audience.”