Skin cancer – and the importance of protecting your child.

With schools having broken up for the summer holidays and long days ahead, it’s more important then ever for parents to consider the impact of sun damage on their children – as a recent story reported in the Daily Mail has brought home. Jennifer Nicholson, 50, spoke of her heartbreak after her 18-year-old daughter, Freja, died of skin cancer as a result of childhood holidays in the sun. The mother blamed herself for not always applying sunscreen to her daughter's fair skin during the hot British summers of her childhood. Doctors said if she had, Freja might still be alive. Per Hall, Clinical Advisor for SkinHealth UK and a pioneer in the early detection of skin cancer, comments: “Simple sun protection advice is now fairly well known, but still not always well practiced. It is advisable to wear a hat, sunglasses and reapply sun cream every four hours – and this is particularly important with children.” Sun damage occurs when ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate deep in to the skin and damage cells. These cells are then at risk of becoming cancerous. There are two types of rays – UVB and UVA. UVB rays cause the skin to burn, while UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and cause ageing in addition to a host of skin disorders. “It is highly recommended to find a sunscreen that protects against both types,” explains Mr Hall. “Most people also tend to only wear between factor 15 and 20, when in fact they should be going for between 30 and 50.” Whilst education on skin cancer has improved, it is still the most common form of cancer in the UK with rates continuing to rise. There are two broad categories of skin cancer: melanoma – the most dangerous form of the disease – and non-melanoma. Over 99,500 people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in the UK each year. Approximately 13,300 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma, making it the fifth most widespread cancer. It is also the second most common cancer in young adults (aged 15-34) with 2,100 people dying from the disease each year. One key issue is that sun exposure and a tan were, until relatively recently, widely considered healthy. This attitude – combined with the availability of cheap package holidays – has created a cancer legacy among those who lived through the 1960s, 70s and 80s which in many cases is only now coming to light. “We believe that cancer actually develops as a two-hit process,” explains Mr Hall, “so you prime your skin cells by damaging them with UV light, and then perhaps decades later you give it another hit by allowing it to be exposed again, and that second hit tips something that was already damaged into becoming cancerous. In fact, suffering sunburn as a child can increase your cancer risk by as much as 80%. “It is very likely that people who are now in their 40s and 50s have already done this damage to themselves. Now they have an obligation to themselves to keep an eye on their skin – but they also have an obligation to their children to make sure they don't get sunburned, and that this cycle of skin cancer is broken.”