New NICE public health guidance published today encourages a balanced approach to skin cancer prevention, helping to ensure that prevention activities do not discourage outdoor physical activity, while encouraging people to use sensible skin protection.
The new guidance focuses on how the NHS and local authorities can help prevent skin cancer using public information, sun protection resources and by making changes to the natural and built environment.
There are two main types of skin cancer - non-melanoma and malignant melanoma. Non-melanoma is thought to account for around a third of all cancers detected in the UK, with an estimated 100,000 people affected. Malignant melanoma is the most serious and causes the majority of skin cancer deaths – around 2,500 per year. It is estimated that the NHS spends approximately £70m on skin cancer each year.
The main cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificially from sunbeds and lamps. Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at NICE said: "There is nothing wrong with short periods of exposure to sunshine, and it may in fact be beneficial. But prolonged exposure and sunburn can have dangerous consequences – a third of all cancers detected in this country are from skin cancer, including non-malignant and malignant melanoma. The incidence of malignant melanoma in Great Britain has more than tripled since the 1970s and yet many people still underestimate the prevalence of skin cancer.
"Through this guidance we hope to raise awareness of the risks of UV exposure and help people to protect themselves and others. Simple actions can greatly reduce the risk of developing skin cancer - opting to stay in the shade, wearing protective clothing in the sun, avoiding too much sun during the middle of the day and using sunscreen can all have an effect."
Professor Catherine Law, Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology, UCL Institute of Child Health and Chair of NICE's Public Health Interventions Advisory Committee said: "This new public health guidance focuses on preventing skin cancer caused by overexposure to UV radiation. The guidance includes some simple and practical recommendations which can prevent over-exposure.
"These include creating shaded areas when constructing new or redeveloping existing buildings. It also recommends that schools should encourage children and young people to apply sun screen and seek shade during breaks outside; and employers should encourage staff working outside to wear clothing that protects them from the harmful effects of the sun, such as a broad-brimmed hat that covers the back of the neck."
"I will encourage and share this advice and message with the public. But it is also imperative to address that the early morning sun does give some benefit, ie, vitamin D synthesis. So everything need to be in moderation, justified and well thought within reason prior to being acted on" - Anne, Swindon