Study reveals 16 to 30-year-olds are worst at skin cancer prevention

In collaboration with Adfero

People aged 16 to 30 years tend to have the poorest understanding of ways to avoid skin cancer and are more likely to get sunburnt than older age groups, new research shows.

The survey, which was presented at the annual conference of the British Association of Dermatologists, involved 1,000 adults who were questioned about their sun safety knowledge and behaviour while visiting their GP.

Researchers at Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust and the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust found that 16 to 30-year-olds had the worst understanding of skin cancer prevention.

They were more likely to get sunburnt and less likely to avoid the midday sun than older age groups, with 17 per cent admitting that they never avoid the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm, when the sun is strongest.

More than half of 16 to 30-year-olds said they are exposed to sun on a daily basis, compared with 44 per cent of 31 to 45-year-olds.

And 19 per cent of younger people said that they burn more than once a year, compared with just three per cent of over-60s.

Overall, the findings indicate that 16 to 30-year-olds are the worst at protecting their skin in the sun, despite the fact that melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer - is the second most common cancer in this age group.

The survey also suggests that young people who have previously had skin cancer or have a family history of the disease are no less likely to avoid or cover up in the sun than people with no history of the disease.

Dr Antonia Lloyd-Lavery, from Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust Dermatology Department, said: "Our results indicate that younger patients are less likely to practise safe sun exposure. Furthermore, our results suggest that those with a personal or family history of skin cancer may not have received critical education on safe sun exposure from the medical profession.

"UK-based health awareness programmes should therefore particularly target younger age groups. In addition, healthcare professionals must ensure that opportunities are taken to reinforce the importance of safe sun exposure among patients."

Nina Goad, from the British Association of Dermatologists, described the findings as a "real worry".

She said: "We definitely need to look more at what will help encourage young people to adhere to anti-sunburn advice."

Dr Claire Knight, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This research highlights the need for more efforts to encourage people to change their behaviour so they enjoy the sun safely and avoid sunburn whatever their age. Rates of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, have more than quadrupled in Britain in the last 30 years.

"But the good news is that most cases of melanoma could be prevented by avoiding overexposure to UV rays, from the sun or sunbeds. To reduce the risk of skin cancer, protect yourself from strong sun by covering up with clothing, spending some time in the shade, and applying at least SPF 15 sunscreen with 4 or more stars generously and regularly."