Survey results for

June/August: Sun Awareness

Now that autumn is well and truly upon us, it is easy to forget the endless days of summer sun that we were all enjoying just a few weeks ago. Throughout the warmer months, many of us enjoyed our holidays abroad and weekend barbecues, spending much of our time in the sun when possible. On occasion the dangers of too much sun exposure can fall to the back of your mind. From burnt skin and sun damaged skin, to skin cancer, the sun can bring with it all sorts of problems. With winter just around the corner it is also important to remember the risk of sun damage even when it’s cold outside. Winter sunshine and sunny ski holidays can also cause sun damage if not protected.

When summer was in full swing, we launched our Sun Awareness survey in order to gain insights into our member’s knowledge of sun safety and the dangers of too much sun exposure, in particular the dangers of skin cancer that affects. The vast majority of those that participated in the survey were female (86%), between the ages of 41 and 50 (28%) and had a fair to light skin tone (49%).

Skin cancer and you

Of those that participated in the survey, 3% were currently living with, or had previously had skin cancer. Those participants were then asked about initial signs and symptoms. When asked, ‘What was the first 'symptom' you noticed?’ the most common initial symptom was rough, dry, scaly skin (44%), followed by moles that change in colour (19%). When asked to consider what age they were when they first noticed this symptom, the majority were between the ages of 41 and 50 (31%). Surprisingly, when asked how long they long did they lived with skin cancer-related symptoms before going to see a doctor, 22% answered with two weeks to a month, and a further 22% answered with over a year.

Participants were then asked how long they had then been living with skin cancer, to which 38% answered with less than a year. It is surprising that 13% of people had been living with skin cancer for over 11 years, showing that the length of time you can be affected by skin cancer can vary considerably.

Melanoma or non-melanoma

There was a relatively even divide between those that had melanoma (41%) and non-melanoma (44%), with 16% answering that they didn’t know what type of skin cancer they had. More specifically, the most common kind of melanoma was Superficial Spreading Melanoma (23%), with the most common non-melanoma being Basal Cell Carcinoma (57%).

Symptoms and causes

The face (44%), back (28%) and arms (25%) were the most common areas affected by skin cancer. When asked to reflect on what symptoms they had experienced as a result of their skin cancer, rough dry skin and moles that change in colour were the most common symptoms, however over 59% of people currently weren’t experiencing any symptoms.

Participants were asked if they were aware of any factors that could have contributed to the development of their skin cancer, to which three quarters (75%) of people answered too much sun exposure. Prior to getting skin cancer, the amount of time people spent in the sun was considerably more than after they developed skin cancer. When asked whether they used SPF sun cream before developing skin cancer, close to half (47%) answered no. However, after discovering that they were living with skin cancer, that number changed considerably, with 81% choosing to use SPF sun cream compared to the 53% who used it prior to their diagnosis.

Participants were then asked to describe in a freeform format the impact that having skin cancer has had on their life:

"It has affected my life significantly; I had a major operation and now have a 12 scar on my back and positive melanoma in lymph nodes. It affects what clothes I wear and I hate summer as I am scared to go out in the sun, I will never be able to go on a holiday abroad in the sun like everyone else does. I live in constant fear that the melanoma will reoccur elsewhere and I will become sick it has affected every aspect of my life and knocked my confidence."

"I had a basal cell carcinoma removed and a skin graft from the side of my face onto my nose, we do not go on holiday and I keep out of the sun as much as I can during the day and garden etc later in the day."

"Am now scrupulous about applying sun factor products before leaving the house unless there is no prospect of sun. In addition, if I have to be out in full sun I wear a large hat and sunglasses although I prefer to seek shade. I have now bought a coloured SPF face cream to compensate for the pale face I now have. Have bought SPF long sleeve base layer tops. Ensured that I checked all the family and sent them for checks of any dubious moles."

Treatments and disease awareness

Surgery and tissue removal were the most popular treatments, with 84% of participants stating that they had tried this form of treatment. Considering the emotional impact their skin cancer has had on them, participants were asked if they felt there was sufficient support available for those living with skin cancer. Close to half (47%) answered with I don’t know (or hadn’t sought support from medical professionals), with 38% answering yes, and 16% answering no. Those that did answer no were given the opportunity to reflect on their own support experiences:

"Macmillan nurses are available but I have never used them as I don't feel that they can understand what I am feeling."

"As I had BCC, once it was removed and the results were sent that they had removed it all, I have just been let to drift, with no follow up."

"There was no follow up at all. And when I had another mole diagnosed as benign a few years later, the student who told me just blurted it out and seems surprised at my emotional reaction."

Finally, participants that had skin cancer were asked where they went to gather information on their condition, to which the majority stated they went to their GP (47%) or medical specialist (47%), with 22% answering with talkhealth.

Don’t have skin cancer

The 97% of participants who didn’t have skin cancer were asked a number of questions concerning their awareness of skin cancer, the causes and symptoms. When asked to consider whether they or anyone they knew had experienced symptoms of skin cancer, the most common symptoms selected were itchy skin (46%) rough, dry, scaly skin (43%) and large moles (24%). Participants were later asked what they considered to be the biggest cause of skin cancer, to which 72% stated ‘sun exposure’. 86% of participants stated that they did wear SPF sun cream; however most only used it when it was sunny (54%) or when on holiday (18%). Sun protection is important even if you aren’t going on holiday. Many dermatologists advise patients to use sun cream all year round to protect them from any sun damage, as well as helping with anti-aging.

They were then asked whether anyone they knew had, or previously had, skin cancer, to which 60% answered ‘not that I know of’. Over 96% of participants stated that they would go to see their GP if they feared they may have skin cancer.

Although the sun can cause problems if you are not protected, it is important to remember the benefits the sun can bring. Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, and these essential nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. A little time in the sun can give you just the right amount of vitamin D you need. For those of you who can't sit in the sun, there are plenty of vitamins and supplements you can take that will provide you with the nutrients you need.

Very many of those who responded to the survey said they would like to be contacted regarding the results of this survey. We would like to thank everyone who participated in this survey.

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-skin/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/malignant-melanoma/Pages/Introduction.aspx

If you're interested in a detailed analysis of the results for these surveys please contact us.