Tenovus, the cancer charity, is campaigning for the Welsh Assembly Government to provide free sunscreen for all children under the age of 11 in Wales. Skin cancer has more than doubled in the last 10 years and children are especially at risk.
Research published in the Journal of Environmental Health Research shows that there is a high level of understanding of the need for protection against over exposure to the sun but that the practice of protection is poor, leading to a strong optimistic bias in favour of the adequacy of protection, possibly creating over-exposure. The research advises that health practitioners should build on the existing recognition of the need for protection and devise and promulgate strong messages about the way in which protection should be managed to avoid over exposure and the consequent elevated risk of developing skin cancer.
The incidence of cancer in general is higher in areas of deprivation; including malignant melanoma which is the most common cancer in is 15 to 24 year olds. One of the reasons for this is the high cost of sunscreen and the lack of knowledge of its application.
Dr Ian Lewis, Author on the paper and Head of Research for Tenovus, said;
“In Wales alone there are around 500 cases of malignant melanoma each year resulting in over 100 deaths. Tenovus and the Chartered Institution of Environmental Health conducted a piece of research into the behaviours and beliefs around using sunscreen effectively and our findings show that there are many misconceptions and ill use of sun protection. We are particularly concerned about young people as research has shown that sunburn in childhood can double the risk of getting skin cancer later in life and a recent poll showed that nearly a third of teenagers never use sunscreen and a quarter will actually try to burn on purpose. Tenovus would like an educational programme rolled out on the importance and correct use of sun protection alongside our call for free sunscreen for under 11’s.”
Julie Barratt, Director of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in Wales, added:
“Giving access to free sunscreen for under 11’s ensures that every child in Wales can be protected from sunburn in childhood and protected against the risk of developing skin cancer in later life. This is not a cosmetic measure – it has the potential to be a lifesaver. We appreciate there are difficult financial choices to be made and that there are competing priorities for the health budget. The evidence, however, clearly demonstrates that money spent now in providing free sunscreen to under 11’s will be money saved later in treating skin cancer.”
As a nation leading the way on health initiatives such as free prescriptions, free sunscreen for under 11’s is a reasonable ask which will provide value for money in the long term as fewer people develop skin cancer and require treatment and support from our health and social care services - which is currently over £14 million per year.
Tenovus are asking cancer professionals to get involved and sign the petition at www.tenovus.org.uk/sun
Journal reference: Journal of Environmental Health Research, Volume 10 Issue 1 'The effect of behaviour and beliefs on the effective use of sunscreen'.
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