Report calls for targeted skin cancer prevention campaigns

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new report has recommended that skin cancer prevention campaigns should target a range of individual high-risk groups amid concerns that the number of diagnoses is rising by eight per cent a year in the UK.

Researchers at the University of the West of England have called for urgent investment in targeted awareness campaigns which emphasise the importance of wearing appropriate clothing, avoiding being out in the sun in the middle of the day, and using high-factor sunscreen.

The experts suggest a range of marketing strategies, including outdoor lifestyle interventions that show people the damage to skin caused by past exposure, and partnerships between pharmacies, food retailers and sports organisations to ensure a consistent message is portrayed.

Professor Lynne Eagle, co-director of the Social Marketing Centre at the University of the West of England, said that the growing incidence of skin cancer highlights the need for a range of media campaigns targeting at-risk groups "in the right place, at the right time and with the right message".

"This might seem obvious but it's a complex and difficult thing to achieve," she said. "We have analysed campaigns run in a number of countries and come up with strategies that could work with the range of at-risk groups in the UK."

The professor noted that one severe episode of sunburn during early childhood doubles a person's risk of melanoma skin cancer in the future and called for better legislation on the use of sunbeds.

She also revealed that the most at-risk groups include babies, young toddlers, young people who crave a suntan, those who use sunbeds, men and outdoor workers.

"There are also muddled perceptions about how to use sun protection products and what these products actually do, which points to the possibility of a fruitful collaboration between health protection messages and commercial interests," she added.

Caroline Cerny, Cancer Research UK's SunSmart Campaign Manager, said: "Melanoma is now the most common cancer in young people. This is why Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign is focusing on teenagers and young adults in 2008. Use of sunbeds is also a big area of concern for us. We are calling on the government to introduce legislation to regulate the industry.

"We know that sustained skin cancer campaigns have helped to cut deaths from and initiate a reduction of malignant melanoma in the younger generations in Australia. Increased investment in skin cancer prevention and early detection are vital if we are to reduce incidence of this disease in the UK."