Survey highlights need for better sun education and protection

In collaboration with Adfero

Nearly 40 per cent of school-age children in the UK have sustained sunburn while they were at school, a new survey by Skin Cancer UK has found.

The group's poll of more than 1,000 people - the majority of whom were parents of under-18s - also revealed that more than two-fifths of parents think teachers should ensure children wear sunscreen when they go outdoors during school hours.

The clinical and charitable alliance has now presented its findings to the All?Party Parliamentary Group on Skin and urged the government to introduce an enforceable policy on sun safety for schools, based on national guidelines for exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Furthermore, the organisation says that teachers should be required to deliver advice on sun safety, and that efforts to educate society about early detection of skin cancer should be stepped up.

Richard Clifford, lead member of Skin Cancer UK, said: "Children who are over?exposed to the sun are storing up problems for the future. It is therefore imperative to encourage the use of sunscreens and sun protection to minimise their risk.

"Together with a shady area to play in and the wearing of hats, we would like to see provision made for teachers to take a role in the 'common sense' application and availability of sunscreens and protection."

Mr Clifford also observed that many people do not know the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and called for more funding to increase public awareness.

He suggested that the UK should learn from Australia, which has seen a decrease in its melanoma skin cancer rates since introducing awareness campaigns.

He argued: "There is no other common cancer so directly attributable to a single, avoidable cause. Each year skin cancer costs the UK in excess of 240 million and claims more than 2,521 lives, yet the British government spends less than 1p per person on awareness campaigns annually. This is obviously woefully insufficient to effect the necessary behaviour change.

Professor Barry Powell, a burns, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at St George's Healthcare Trust in London, welcomed Skin Cancer UK's recommendations and claimed that government action is long overdue.

He said: For too long, the epidemic of skin cancer has been neglected in this country.

The report states that attempts to manage the rising costs of skin cancer set against the rising incidence of the disease must inevitably lead to the conclusion that successful education to bring about behaviour change will, in the long term, not only bring about huge savings for the NHS but also and, most importantly, save many lives.

Yinka Ebo, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: Getting sunburnt as a child can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life, so it's worrying that so many children are getting burnt while at school. Children's skin is delicate and very easily damaged by the sun, so extra care should be taken to protect their skin from sunburn at home and at school - as well as when abroad.

The summer sun in the UK can be strong enough to cause sunburn and lasting skin damage, which can increase the risk of skin cancer. Protecting children from strong sun with clothing, shade, and at least factor 15 sunscreen are all important ways to prevent getting sunburnt.