Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK. There are various types of it. This page looks at the melanoma form of skin cancer.

There is one main factor that increases the risk of developing melanoma - ultraviolet light (radiation). Ultraviolet light comes from the sun or sunbeds.

Fortunately, skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Relatively small changes to the way people behave in the sun can lead to a considerable reduction in personal risk. Protecting the skin from the sun by wearing protective clothing, using a sunscreen with appropriate sun protection factor, wearing a hat and avoiding the sun at certain times are all recommended as primary preventive activities by cancer agencies across the world.

Studies show that most people are aware of the risks associated with sun exposure, but that they need constant reminders to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. Therefore educational programmes aimed at reducing exposure to ultraviolet light and to improving people’s knowledge and attitudes to sun protective behaviours are central to addressing the rising incidence of skin cancer.

The CIEH believes that local authorities and health departments have a key role to play in getting the messages across and protecting people from risk. An effective prevention strategy has three main components: 

  • Promotion of ‘sun safe’ behaviour – public education about the health hazards of UVR exposure and what can be done to reduce risk 
  • Environmental measures – structural changes to provide protection from the sun by providing adequate shade, monitoring to ensure the controlled use of sun tanning establishments 
  • Early detection – public education to emphasise the importance of early reporting of potentially dangerous lesions 

Those interested in skin cancer prevention may find the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) ‘pathway’ resource on preventing skin cancer useful.

For more information on both melanoma and non melanoma cancer, please visit the Cancer Research UK website.

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