The past couple of weeks have brought unprecedented good news in the fight against skin cancers. However, amidst the good news come reminders that we need to do the basic things if we are to stop the seemingly inexorable rise of skin cancers in the UK.
First, the good news.
An international study of 945 patients with advanced melanoma found treatment with ipilimumab and nivolumab stopped the cancer advancing for nearly a year in 58% of cases. This is a positive step because more then 2,000 people die from malignant melanoma in the UK each year. This is the most deadly type of skin cancer. Moreover, in the last few years incidences of malignant melanoma, in the UK, have risen faster than all the other top 10 cancers.
The Guardian, on 31 May, reported that Dr David Hazafy, a scientist at Queen’s University Belfast, has developed a simple and cheap piece of plastic, which can be tied around the wrist and contains an ink which disappears when the user has been exposed to the recommended daily dose of sun for their skin tone. I say anything that helps protect people from too much sun exposure is a good thing. Block the sun not the fun!
The third piece of good news I want to highlight is a scientific study has shown that normal skin contains an unexpectedly high number of cancer-associated mutations. The study demonstrates the value of analysing normal tissue to learn more about the origins of the disease. Every day step-by-step, we get closer to beating skin cancer.
Now for the bad news!
The sun tanning culture is alive and kicking, more worryingly teenagers seem to have embraced it. Teenage Cancer Trust carried out a poll of young people between 13-24* and found that over a third (38%) don’t use sun protection in the UK because they don’t believe the sun here is strong enough to damage their skin.
The survey also found that close to a fifth (18%) of young people admit to deliberately burning in order to ‘kick start a tan’. Dude, malignant melanoma is not cool or sexy. It is the second most common cancer amongst young people (15 - 34 year olds), and two young people a day die from melanoma. Use sunscreen.
Clearly, people’s behaviour is the problem. We have to change attitudes to sun tanning and how we behave in the sun (whether here in the UK or abroad). I propose that we need a national campaign similar to that which changed social attitudes towards drunk driving.
What is your experience of melanoma? Do you regularly use a sunbed? Do you deliberately burn so that you can kick-start your holiday tan? Share your story or leave a comment below.
*Teenage Cancer Trust survey conducted in May 2015 of 283 people aged 13-24 years old