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Britain has more skin cancer deaths than Australia

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by Cancer Research UK | News

27 March 2003

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Thousands more Britons than Australians die from malignant melanoma despite the fact that more cases of this most deadly form of skin cancer are diagnosed Down Under.

Alarming figures are revealed by Cancer Research UK and the Government in a joint initiative to launch a nationwide SunSmart campaign to make the public aware of how they can combat what is a largely preventable form of cancer.

The country’s leading dermatologists say that lack of public awareness about skin cancer and failure by patients to recognise early symptoms are leading to needless deaths.

And experts are alarmed at how many Britons fail to use proper protection in the sun.

In the last five years there have been 8,100 British deaths from malignant melanoma compared to 4,900 in Australia.

The SunSmart campaign aims to encourage more people to protect themselves and their children from the sun’s harmful rays and so reduce their risk of skin cancer.

Dr Charlotte Proby, 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.

“The SunSmart campaign aims to make it second nature to protect yourself in the sun. It is also important for people to be aware of their moles. All moles will change slowly over the years but people should be on the look out for specific changes.

“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.”

The SunSmart Campaign will be distributing posters, leaflets and information cards to health professionals, doctors’ surgeries and schools.

Although Australia has one-third the population of the UK, it has more cases of malignant melanoma. Yet each year 600 more people die from the disease in Britain than in Australia.

The most recent figures show that in one year 7,850 cases of malignant melanoma were diagnosed in Australia and 5,990 in the UK. The number of deaths in Australia is 1,000 compared to 1,600 in Britain per year.

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 per cent 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.”

Dr Richard Sullivan, head of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK, says: “Death rates from malignant melanoma have fallen in Australia largely due to the success of its SunSmart campaigns which started more than 20 years ago.

“We hope to mimic that success in the UK and, with their blessing, have put the SunSmart name to our national campaign. Only with sustained and continuous effort can we change people’s attitudes towards the sun and start to reduce the incidence and mortality from skin cancer in the UK.”

Professor Mike Richards, National Cancer Director, says: “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.

“The Department of Health, together with health departments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are delighted to commission Cancer Research UK to run a national skin cancer prevention campaign – SunSmart.”

Sir Jackie Stewart, former world champion racing driver, is supporting Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign after being successfully treated for skin cancer last year.

He says: “I know, from my own experience and from that of friends, that skin cancer can be frightening and life-threatening. Preventative medicine, I can assure you, is considerably better than corrective medicine. Before I contracted skin cancer I simply did not take the correct precautions. If I had followed the guidelines created by this campaign it would have saved me a great deal of worry and discomfort.”

Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, says: “We are very pleased to join with the government in this initiative to raise public awareness with the message that it is very simple to protect yourself in the sun thereby reducing the risk of malignant melanoma, a cancer which is mostly preventable.”