Health: ‘Don’t binge on sun – it could risk your life’

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Soaring skin cancer cases could mean young people aren’t heeding warnings. katie baldwin reports.

The UK is a nation of sun-lovers – and now we’re paying the price.

Over the last 20 years, skin cancer incidences have soared across the country and closer to home.

The rates of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, have more than doubled in Yorkshire according to latest figures from Cancer Research UK.

Around 16 people in every 100,000 are diagnosed with malignant melanoma in the region each year, compared to just seven per 100,000 in the early 90s.

That means that now nearly 1,000 Yorkshire residents develop the illness every 12 months, up from only 360 people 20 years ago.

Nationally, malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and more than 2,000 people die from the disease each year.

Rates are five times higher across the UK than they were 40 years ago.

The huge rise can be blamed on several factors, including the growing popularity of package holidays from the 1960s and the cultural shift which has made being tanned highly desirable.

It’s thought that the boom in sunbed use has also helped to fuel the increase, while better detection methods may also have contributed to the increase in the number of people diagnosed.

A Leeds expert is warning young people that they should be more aware than ever about the dangers of getting sunburnt.

Professor Simon Kay, consultant in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Spire Leeds Hospital in Roundhay, said despite warnings, younger people were still ‘binge sunbathing’ – meaning they are getting burned.

“The specific danger to younger people is that these are the years much of the skin damage is done that causes problems in later life. Sun damage can remain undetected for years,” said Prof Kay.

“Just one episode of burning below the age of 18 can double the future risks.”

He said malignant melanoma, is most often caused by exposure of the skin to sun.

“Non-melanoma is the most common and usually more easily treated skin cancer. Malignant melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer as it can spread to other tissues and organs,” he added.

“There is a significant increase in survival rates if melanoma is caught early so there is every reason to be vigilant. It could save your life.”

He said people need to ensure they stay safe in the sun by mainly making sure they never burn.

“If you are determined to acquire a tan, do it gradually. Damage is done when the skin burns, long before it is bad enough to blister.

●”Avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day – between 11am and 3pm. Find shade under umbrellas, trees and other shelters.”

The advice is also to always cover up with a high factor broad spectrum sunscreen, but this alone is not enough. Wear t-shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses too.

Young skin is also particularly at risk – sunburn in children under 15 leaves them at higher risk of eventually developing skin cancer.

And babies should be kept out of the sun completely, while older children should be protected with both sunscreen and clothing.

Prof Kay added that people shouldn’t forget to apply sunscreen when travelling in a car, on a bus or train, as sun can still have an effect on your skin through the windows.

He also recommends regular self-checks of the skin to look for signs of any abnormalities, which can be treated if caught early, but left unchecked may develop into serious cancers.

“A change in normal appearance of the skin should not be ignored and requires a visit to the GP.

“Signs to look for include moles that change in shape, size or colour, broken or ulcerated skin that appears for no obvious reason and doesn’t heal quickly, or sore spots that continue to hurt, itch or bleed for long periods of time.”

Cancer Research UK has also launched its annual campaign with Nivea Sun on the issue.

Visit: for more information on how to stay safe and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

PIC: Simon Hulme

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