Over the past 10 years in England, there has been a 61% increase in new cases of melanoma, the most serious, and often fatal, form of skin cancer, and an increase of 41% in non-melanoma skin cancers. In 2012, there were 11,281 new cases of melanoma and 79,743 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer. Moreover, in the UK as a whole, the mortality rate is 20% compared with 12% in Australia for a similar number of cases. More than 2,200 people die, every year, from malignant melanoma.
According to NICE, although melanoma is more often diagnosed in older people, it is increasingly affecting younger people. More than 900 adults aged under 35 are now diagnosed with melanoma annually in the UK, and it is the second most common cancer in adults aged between 25 and 49. Melanoma therefore leads to more years of life lost overall than many more common cancers.
Theses facts are truly alarming. People are dying needlessly. This is unacceptable. It is time to put a stop to this seemingly inexorable path.
In July (2015) NICE published new guidelines that aims to improve survival rates and reduce variation in the care of patients with melanoma, currently the fastest growing form of cancer. These guidelines are wide-ranging and welcomed but they are not enough, by themselves, primarily because they are not mandatory. Moreover, there is concern among consultant dermatologists in hospitals that the clinical commissioning process may not be sufficiently robust to deal with this increased spate of skin cancers.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes, said in a recent debate in the House of Lords:
As someone who had skin cancer 40 years ago, I have a check-up every year. The services are excellent but the most important thing in the context of this Question is that we are now getting the early diagnosis… The most important thing is to raise public awareness, as has been done in Australia, where malignant melanoma, it is believed, can pretty well be eliminated. The important thing is to raise public awareness so that the public go to their doctors and demand to be referred. That is how we will continue to catch more cases at a stage when they can be treated.
We need to change people’s attitude to and behaviour in the sun. I strongly believe that is needed is not just a campaign but a structural level intervention similar to that implemented in the fight against AIDS/HIV. We can change attitudes and more importantly change behaviours.
The issue of skin cancer is complicated by other factors. One is the debate about our bodies need for vitamin D. Such debates notwithstanding, our focus is clear:
Block the sun, not the fun.