16 to 30-year-olds are the worst at protecting their skin in the sun, despite melanoma being the second most common cancer in this age group, according to a new study out this week.
The research, due to be released at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference in London this week (July 4th to 7th), explored the sun safety knowledge and behaviour of 1,000 adults, interviewed over a two-month period. The respondents were split into age categories of 16 to 30, 31 to 45, 46 to 60 and over 60 years.
An understanding of ways to avoid skin cancer in the 16 to 30-year-old group was rated worse than all other age groups. Those aged 16 to 30 years were also significantly more likely to get sunburned and were less likely to avoid midday sun exposure or to cover up in the sun compared with older age groups.
Those aged 16 to 30 reported the highest levels of sun exposure, with 54 percent heading out into the sun daily, compared to 44, 48 and 50 percent of older age groups, respectively.
17 percent admitted to never avoiding the sun during its peak hours (11am to 3pm) compared to nine percent of 31 to 45-year-olds, six percent of 46 to 60s and seven percent of over 60s.
At least three times as many 16 to 30s allow their skin to burn in the sun at least once a year than the older age groups, with almost one in five (19 percent) admitting to regular (more than annual) burning, compared to six percent each of 31 to 45s and 46 to 60s, and just three percent of over 60s. Only one in five of the youngest age group (19 percent) never let their skin burn.
A shocking 23 percent of 16 to 30-year-olds admit they never protect their skin in the sun with clothing and a hat. This compares with eight, 11 and six percent of the older age groups, respectively.
Alarmingly, young people with either a personal history of skin cancer, or a member of the family who has suffered from the disease, were no less likely to expose their skin to the sun or to sunburn than those without any personal or family history of skin cancer.
Those with such a history were more likely to wear sunscreen but not to cover up in the sun. Furthermore they did not rate their understanding of the ways to avoid skin cancer as significantly better than those without such a history, nor were they more likely to appreciate the relationship between skin cancer and sun exposure.
Skin cancer is the UK’s most common cancer, with over 100,000 new cases diagnosed every year, and it continues to rise faster than any other cancer type. Rates of melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, have tripled in 15 to 34-year-olds in the last 30 years.
Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “With so much education – both in schools and in publicity campaigns – aimed at young people, it is a real worry that this age group are still either ignorant to or choosing to ignore sun safety messages. It seems likely that a number of factors are at play here, including a lack of understanding of how to stay safe in the sun (as suggested by the use of sunscreen but ignorance of clothing and shade as protective measures), but also the pressure and desire amongst young people to looked bronzed. Also, as we get older, we start to take into account the ageing effects of the sun more, and often protect our skin for this reason, and this may not be such a deterrent in young people. We definitely need to look more at what will help encourage young people to adhere to anti-sunburn advice.”
Dr Antonia Lloyd-Lavery, from Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust Dermatology Department and one of the researchers, said: “Our results indicate that younger patients are less likely to practise safe sun exposure. Furthermore, our results suggest that those with a personal or family history of skin cancer may not have received critical education on safe sun exposure from the medical profession. UK based health awareness programmes should therefore particularly target younger age groups. In addition, healthcare professionals must ensure that opportunities are taken to reinforce the importance of safe sun exposure among patients.”
The aim of this study was to investigate current knowledge, awareness and attitudes towards the prevention of skin cancer in patients attending their general practice in the UK. Patients aged 16 years and over presenting to one of three general practices (two urban, one rural) in the UK between 1 June and 31 July 2010 were invited to complete a paper-based questionnaire collecting data on participant demographics, skin cancer risk, their understanding of the role of excess sun exposure in skin cancer development and sun-protection behaviour.
A total of 1000 patients responded comprising 327 men and 673 women.
The study was released at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference.