Campaigners aim to get skin cancer message across this summer
After an abnormally sunny April to date, summer is on the way.
As they said in the culture-changing Australian health campaign, time to Slip, Slop, Slap…slip on a shirt, slop on the 30-plus sunscreen and slap on a hat.
However, thousands of Britons have not got the message. Or have chosen to ignore it.
Which means they could be joining the 70,000 who will be diagnosed this year with easy-to-treat non-melanoma skin cancer; more seriously, they could find themselves joining the ranks of the 15,000 who will be diagnosed with malignant melanoma.
If you want a fact to remind you of the vulnerability of Britons to the often elusive sun, some 30 years after Slip Slop Slap was launched in baking Australia, the skin cancer death rate is higher in the UK than Down Under. It is also Britain’s most common and fastest-rising cancer.
Among those trying to spread the sun awareness message is Midlands-based charity Skcin. The ‘kc’ bit is explained by its formal name: the Karen Clifford Skin cancer Charity.
Karen was the grandmother from Tollerton who died aged 61 after contracting malignant melanoma.
Her husband Richard and their family founded the charity, which exists not to generate funds for research but to get the prevention message across to those who most need to hear it.
That includes workplaces like building sites, where bare torsos and partially exposed backsides are commonplace; golf clubs, where an 18-hole round means uninterrupted hours under the sun, and, critically if you believe in catching them young, nurseries and schools.
The Cliffords’ cause was given impetus by influential friends, like QMC consultant dermatologist Sandeep Varma and specialist skin cancer nurse Gill Godsell; like former Boots employees Steve Boothroyd and sunscreen expert Anthony Hubbard; like a team of ambassadors who are spreading the work beyond the region.
And like Skcin chairman John Holmes, who says: “Reaching children is the main thing and our accreditation scheme is a great success. We have reached 2,600 schools all over the country, which means 400,000 children.”
Sun Safe Schools and Nurseries are free online tools available to all primary schools and nurseries, giving them access to a comprehensive range of fun and engaging, curriculum-linked teaching resources.
If the name John Holmes rings a bell, yes, it’s broadcaster John Holmes, now semi-retired at 70 but still the voice of Sunday mornings on BBC Radio Nottingham.
Having a well-known face helps promote the cause but John also brings valuable relevant experience to Skcin: he knows the surprise of being told he has skin cancer.
“It was 20 years ago and I was in Bristol working for the BBC Natural History Unit,” he said. “A doctor looked at my skin and said, ‘You’ve got a mark on your forehead that needs seeing to’.”
It was removed with liquid nitrogen treatment, but John was alarmed to hear the words, “That’s skin cancer, you know.” He added: “It was a surprise, because although I grew up when people were saying, ‘get out in the sun, vitamin D is important’, I could never see the point in sunbathing.”
There were further instances, including one that involved an 11-stitch incision on his face. “I went back to work looking like the Phantom of the Opera,” John recalled.
Happily, these and other outbreaks have been of the non-malignant variety.
John is not the only BBC journalist to have helped power the Skcin cause. Colin Bloomfield of BBC Radio Derby received a terminal prognosis for melanoma and died, aged 33, in 2015 – but not before establishing an appeal that raised £175,000.
“By supporting Skcin, Colin’s appeal made a huge difference in schools in Derbyshire and East Staffordshire,” said John. “The issue is not high on MPs’ agenda, especially now, but the challenge is to see how we can get the message across in the rest of the country. We’d like to see the same take-up in Nottingham.”
Skcin also produces literature to warn readers about the dangers of over-exposure to the sun. The booklet Sun Safety and Skin Cancer gives the facts about skin cancer and solar ultra-violet radiation, sunburn, sunbeds – which have been linked to the rising incidence of melanoma in young adults – and the types of skin blemishes and rough spots that should give cause for concern.
There is also advice on how to prepare yourself for sun. To the Slip Slop Slap drill have been added two more S clauses: slide on some good-quality and close-fitting sunglasses; shade from the sun whenever possible.
Eight out of ten people are inadequately protected by sunscreen when they venture into the sun, according to a new survey for the British Association of Dermatologists. The issue will be addressed during Sun Awareness Week 2017, starting Monday, May 8.
Footnote: For more information about Sun Safe Schools and Workplaces, or for more about reducing the risks of skin cancer, visit www.skcin.org.
Source: Nottingham Post