Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Skin cancer

Here comes the sun, as the Beatles' most upbeat number from Abbey Road had it.

The problem is, of course, that loads of rays don't make everything all right, as the Fab Four sang.

In fact, the statistics on skin cancer suggest our enthusiasm for a tan, coupled with our pale DNA, makes us particularly at risk.

Skin cancers are on the increase. Why?

Consultant dermatologist Julian Handley said: "We're not sure, but the trend towards tanning, which started around the 1960s when foreign travel expanded, didn't help.

"My advice to people is to minimise sun exposure altogether. We know sunlight is a major, if not the only factor, in skin cancer, like smoking and lung cancer.

"Short sharp bursts of sunlight, like sunbeds or holidays in the sun for office workers, also contribute to melanomas."

Another key factor is the overuse of sunbeds. Health experts have recently classified them as cancer-causing.

In England use of sunbeds by the under-18s has been banned and Health Minister Michael McGimpsey introduced a bill last month outlawing unregistered, commercial use of sunbeds and only permitting accredited clinics to operate.

And the Public Health Agency has started a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of the sun.

They're right to act. Skin cancers are unpleasant illnesses. When I had a suspect - ie changing - mole on my torso, I was shocked to hear my GP saying they'd get out "as much as they can" if it was cancerous.

I was lucky, some aren't. In 2001, English student Anna West died from melanoma after years spent pursuing a tan without suncream.

And there was an even more frightening story in the Press this week about Cerys Harding, aged 21, who, although she always protected herself on the beach, succumbed to the same disease within four months.

Dr Handley commented: "It may be that she didn't cover up enough.

"My job is to appeal to young people's vanity and say sunlight is ageing and leads to wrinkles. Let's reintroduce pale skin, which used to indicate class."

When we lived by the sea in Kent, I used to watch my retired neighbours sunbathing for hours to achieve a mahogany tan. In quest of melanoma, I always thought.

How about reviving the classy English rose look: pale, interesting - and safe?

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