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Skin cancer time bomb for young Britons

The Cancer Research UK logo
by Cancer Research UK | News

30 March 2004

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Almost three quarters of Britain’s young men and women are boosting their risk of potentially fatal skin cancer in their search for a suntan.

A specially commissioned survey1 for Cancer Research UK today reveals that 70 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds still want a tan on holiday despite warnings of over exposure to the sun.

These alarming figures come in the wake of news that cases of melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – have increased by 24 per cent in the last five years.

Dr Charlotte Proby, a leading dermatologist for Cancer Research UK, says: “Many teenagers have grown up with an obsession about getting a tan on holiday. But young skin is very vulnerable to UV radiation. Unless young people change their habits and learn to protect themselves properly in the sun we could be heading for a skin cancer time bomb.”

Experts fear that while young people are constantly warned about the dangers of holiday binge drinking and unprotected sex not enough is being done to alert them to the dangers of irresponsible behaviour in the sun.

The survey has prompted Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health to focus on young people and mothers of young children in the second year of their jointly funded SunSmart campaign launched today.

It aims to target mothers with information on how to protect babies and toddlers from the sun and to encourage older teenagers, especially those going abroad alone for the first time, to reduce their skin cancer risk with proper protection from harmful rays.

Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson, says: “ I am delighted to announce that the Department of Health will fund this excellent campaign for around £400,000 over the next three years in recognition of the importance we attach to its work.

“When you consider that sunburn in childhood increases the risk of skin cancer in later life, the importance of this SunSmart campaign really hits home.

“As a mother of teenagers I feel it is clearly important to continue warning them about the importance of protecting their skin – especially when they start to take holidays with their friends away from the family.

“Following the SunSmart code is such a simple way of reducing the risk of skin cancer.”

Dr Proby says: “Almost 7,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2000 and the numbers are rising steadily. It is largely a preventable cancer and we need to ensure that the public knows how it can reduce its risk.

“This year the SunSmart campaign will be providing information to schools, colleges, parents and doctors’ surgeries urging people to protect themselves and their children in the sun and to be aware of any changes in existing moles or new ones appearing.”

“The message is getting through slowly but, as the survey indicates, there is still widespread ignorance about the potential danger of sunburn.”

The survey of more than 1800 people, aged over16, also revealed that only seven per cent of those questioned listed “don’t burn” as a means of reducing their risk of skin cancer. And just six per cent mentioned checking moles as a way of reducing risk.

Nearly half the people questioned liked or aimed to get a tan on holiday. But the figure soared to 70.6 per cent among 16 to 24 year olds of whom only 7.7 per cent avoid getting a tan.

Cancer Research UK scientists, investigating attitudes to sun protection in young people, recently found that older teenagers and young adults holidaying abroad independently for the first time were particularly at risk.

Young women were the most likely to seek a suntan and more prone to using sunscreen with low SPF levels.

Britain already has more deaths from skin cancer than Australia where a 20-year-long campaign of sun awareness has recently reaped great benefits in seeing incidence of melanoma in the younger generation drop for the first time.

In Australia the number of deaths is around 1,000 a year. In the UK it is close to 1,700.

Professor Robert Souhami, Director of Clinical and External Affairs, says: “We are pleased to be continuing our partnership with the Department of Health in campaigning to help reduce the risk of preventable skin cancer by persuading people to adopt SunSmart behaviour.

“The precautions are simple and easy for people to take. The campaign can be one of the most effective ways of helping to save lives.”


  1. ONS omnibus survey