Sunburnt holiday-makers boost their chances of fatal skin cancer

Cancer Research UK

One third of young British holiday-makers will double their chances of developing the most fatal form of skin cancer this summer because they plan to get burnt on the beach.

A national survey* by Cancer Research UK, to launch its 2007 SunSmart campaign, found that 30 per cent of 16-24 year olds said they were certain to get sunburnt on their summer holiday. And a further 30 per cent said they might get sunburnt.

The survey questioned 2000 men and women of all ages throughout Britain about their sunbathing habits.

Overall more than a quarter of adults (27 per cent) thought getting burnt was all part of getting a tan. Almost one fifth (19 percent) said they planned to get burnt and a further 21 per cent said they might.

Scientists know that malignant melanoma - the potentially fatal form of skin cancer - is linked to short intense bursts of over-exposure to the sun. And research has shown that sunburn doubles the risk of skin cancer.**

Dr Lesley Rhodes, a Cancer Research UK dermatologist, said: "Getting sunburnt increases the risk of skin cancer in general. But the kind of sunbathing binges that happen when people go to much hotter climates and bake on the beach is particularly dangerous.

"This kind of short intense exposure to the sun, leading to burning, particularly increases the risk of malignant melanoma. And each year in Britain almost 2000 people die from this form of skin cancer."

Dr Rhodes added that it was particularly worrying that more than a quarter of people surveyed believed burning was all part of getting a tan. "Rates of melanoma are set to treble in the next thirty years unless there is a radical change of behaviour among holiday makers addicted to sunbathing."

Teresa Hughes, a 53-year-old mother of two from Bedfordshire, has undergone surgery to reconstruct the side of her nose after she was diagnosed with both malignant melanoma on her cheek and non melanoma skin cancer on her nose.

She said: “I was left with a hole the size of a 10 pence piece on the side of my nose. My doctor confirmed that the cancer was caused by too much sunbathing without proper protection.

“When I was young I used to live for my holidays in the sun. But that’s all over now. It is so easy to protect your skin in the sun and if talking about my experience encourages people to take better care and avoid the risk of skin cancer it will have been worthwhile.”

Dr Rhodes advises that anyone with an unusual skin blemish or a mole that starts to change should get it checked out by the doctor.

"Signs to watch out for include a mole getting bigger, a mole with a ragged outline or one with a mixture of different shades of brown and black," she said. "If a mole gets inflamed or starts to bleed or itch, then get it checked out. But it’s also important to remember that any of these signs don't necessarily mean you have melanoma."

SunSmart campaign manager Rebecca Russell, said: "This year the campaign is focusing on holiday-makers because research has shown that people are most likely to burn in the sun when they are on holiday.

"We want to raise awareness of the danger of burning - especially when people take off for holidays in warmer countries where the temptation to spend too long on the beach can be great.

"But it is not just a problem for those who go abroad. People, especially those with fair skin, lots of moles or freckles or a family history of skin cancer, can be at risk of burning on hot summer days in the UK."

Ends

* The survey by BMRB Omnibus was conducted by telephone, between February 2-11, 2007, among 2000 adults aged 16 plus. Results were weighted to make them nationally representative.

** Research says that sunburn doubles the risk of melanoma. (References: Gandini et al. 2005 "Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma II: Sun exposure"; Elwood Jopson 1997 "Melanoma and sun exposure: an overview of published studies".)

For media enquries contact Sally Staples in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300, or the out-of-hours duty press officer on 07050 264059.

Notes to Editor

Skin cancers are common and 9 out of 10 of them are non-melanoma skin cancers. Many are easily treatable but others may require complex surgery and can cause some disfigurement. There are more than 67,000 new cases registered each year in the UK.

Malignant melanoma, which accounts for less than one in ten skin cancers, is the most serious type of the disease and may be fatal. It is more common in women than men but more men die from the disease.

Around 8,000 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with malignant melanoma. It usually develops in cells in the outer layer of the skin but can spread to other parts of the body. There are almost 2000 deaths each year from malignant melanoma.

Melanoma is the second most common cancer among people aged 20-39 and early detection is crucial for successful treatment.

Who is at Risk?

Some people have a greater risk of skin cancer. These people tend to:

  • burn easily
  • have fair skin and/or freckles
  • have red or fair hair and/or pale eyes
  • have had skin cancer before
  • have a large number of moles (50+)
  • have skin cancer in the family (especially melanoma)
  • have had bad sunburn in the past.

If one or more of the descriptions on this list apply to you, you should take extra care to protect yourself from the sun. Know your skin type and use the UV Index to find out when you need to protect yourself.

Babies and children need extra protection from the sun because their skin is delicate and easily damaged.

The SunSmart Messages:

  • Spend time in the shade between 11 and 3. The summer sun is most damaging to your skin in the middle of the day.
  • Make sure you never burn; sunburn can double your risk of skin cancer.
  • Aim to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses. When the sun is at its peak sunscreen is not enough.
  • Remember to take extra care with children. Young skin is delicate. Keep babies out of the sun especially around midday.
  • Then use factor 15+ sunscreen.
  • Apply sunscreen generously and reapply often.
  • ¦.Also report mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to your doctor.

Find out more at www.sunsmart.org.uk

SunSmart is the UK’s national skin cancer prevention campaign commissioned by the UK Health Departments and run by Cancer Research UK. The campaign focuses on those most at risk of skin cancer and the key target audience this year is holidaymakers.