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.”