People are putting themselves and their children at risk of skin cancer as research suggests that many are unable to recognise symptoms and are unaware of the dangers of sun exposure.

Half (49%) of British people believe their personal risk of skin cancer is low or non-existent, research by Nuffield Health finds.

More than a third do not think they could identify symptoms of skin cancer, such as new moles, itchy or bleeding moles or moles that change colour or shape, the study, carried out with 2,000 people, also finds.

Despite warnings that sunburn can lead to skin cancer, a third say they are burned once a year or more.

Nearly a quarter of parents with children of school age say their child is sunburnt at least once a year and 26% of younger parents aged between 16 and 34 say their child burns at least three times a year.

The health charity said its UK hospitals have seen a 16% rise in skin cancer cases among 16 to 34-year-olds since 2007.

Paul Banwell, consultant plastic surgeon at Nuffield Health Brighton Hospital, said: "There is an inherent naivety among people in the UK about the risks of skin cancer. Because we live in a climate with relatively little sunshine and lots of rain, people believe they are not at risk. But this is a fallacy.

"These are often the people who spend lots of time outside or who fail to protect themselves in the sun and who, later on in life, are utterly shocked to discover they are suffering the consequences.

"The biggest predictor for skin cancer later in life is sunburn when you are young, whether it materialises in your early 20s or in your 60s.

signs skin cancer

"Sadly, sun awareness and skin checks are not part of our education, and this needs to be addressed as a priority."

Dr Walayat Hussain, consultant dermatologist at Nuffield Health Leeds, said: "Skin cancer can affect anyone at any time and can be a particularly aggressive disease. Unfortunately, awareness is generally low, so that by the time a patient is referred they may have been living with the disease, undiagnosed, for some time.

"A skin check by a doctor is painless and quick and should be part of the routine of anyone who spends lots of time outside. Being familiar with what's on your skin means you will notice any small changes and seek early treatment if necessary."

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