THE BLOG

Youths Risk Cancer for a Tanned Look This Summer

24/07/2014 16:26 BST | Updated 23/09/2014 10:59 BST

What a glorious summer we're being treated too! It makes a wonderful change not to hear the usual dull drone of comments about rainfall, bad weather or 'a typical, wet British summer.' We're giving the rest of Europe a run for their money on the good weather front, with weeks of being in the mid to high 20s, and enjoying cloudless, sunny days - minus a few electric storms!

A summer sight I particularly love is how our parks, beaches and green spaces come alive. Bodies strewn across lush grassy areas, diverse music festivals, friends picnicking and family days out. And with school out for summer, the young are certainly enjoying this back-to-back sunshine.

But with my medical hat on, I can't help but consider what protection, if any, our youth and young adults are taking against the sun's harmful rays. While it's all fun and games in the sunshine, the sun's rays pose a very real danger - skin cancer - yet the tanned look is still seen as desirable and fashionable to many. So, are we doing enough to highlight the dangers of the sun to the young?

Recent research by the Teenager Cancer Trust suggests we're not. The research has highlighted teenagers' behaviour in the sun and their attitude to skin care - and the results are a real concern. Around one in four 13 to 19-year-olds have admitted that they would still get sunburnt for a tan - even if they knew someone with skin cancer. Almost a fifth of this age group have been sunburnt more than ten times in their lifetime and 13% admitted that they have never used sunscreen.

Around 13,300 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer - in the UK each year, with over 2,000 deaths annually. And the stats are growing fast, with four times more people now being diagnosed with melanoma than 30 years ago.

Unlike many types of cancer, skin cancer is greatly affecting our young population. It's now one of the most common types of cancer in people between the ages of 15 to 34. And young people's behaviour in the sun, such as that captured by the Teenager Cancer Trust research, has got a lot to do with this.

It's not just being in the sunshine that's putting youths and young adults at risk of skin damage and potentially skin cancer. The popularity of sunbeds has risen dramatically in recent decades, and the pressure to look tanned all year round is coming from fashion, TV and celebrities. In the same research by the Teenager Cancer Trust, over a third of people questioned didn't know that sunbed rays are around 10-times stronger than the midday sun. And over a quarter didn't realise it was illegal to use sunbeds if they were under 18.

There's clearly not enough awareness about the dangers of the sun or what people should be doing to protect themselves. I guess the question is how do we reach the masses and convey the dangers in a way that will resonate?

One sun safety campaign that I've seen this summer, which I think is a great idea, is the Be Sun Aware Road Show. This road show has been touring the country, visiting popular music festivals and busy areas in London to encourage people to pay more attention to their skin this summer. Targeting music festivals is brilliant. Not only do you have thousands upon thousands of young people to hand, festivals can often involve long days in the heat, where many may feel the full effects of the sun's rays (when it's not all mud and wellies).

Another approach is to involve celebrities to reinforce the message. Youths and young adults often copy the behaviour of celebrities they admire. And many celebs are known for their bronzed limbs and sun kissed look - even though they are likely 'faking' it with tanning products.

In the past, Cancer Research UK teamed up with Nicola Roberts, a member of the popular girl band, Girls Aloud, to highlight the importance of skin care in the sun. We recently had Vinnie Jones fronting the British Heart Foundation's HeartStart campaign and the comedian, Bill Bailey, as the face of Prostate Cancer UK's awareness campaign.. Using a well known celebrity to get across a serious message is one that often makes an impact.

At a time of year when the sun's rays are at their strongest, there doesn't seem enough push to highlight the importance of skin care. When the summer is this good, most people, not just the young, will take every opportunity to soak up some rays. Sadly, the last thing on many people's mind will be skin care, yet surely it should be the first. More campaigns, more awareness and more education is greatly needed to stop melanoma statistics rising even further, especially in those so young.