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Men who spend long periods of time outdoors are being urged to protect themselves against the sun this summer amid a rise in the number of people being diagnosed with skin cancer in the South West.

Farmers, builders, sportsmen and gardeners are all being targeted by NHS England South’s “Cover Up, Mate” campaign because of their prolonged exposure to the sun – and men are a particular focus because research indicates that they are much less likely than women to slap on the sunscreen.

Latest statistics from Cancer Research show that since the late 1970s, skin cancer rates have more than quadrupled (360 per cent increase) in Great Britain. The increase is larger in males where rates have increased more than six-fold (544 per cent increase), than in females where rates have more than tripled (263 per cent increase).

These increases are mirrored at Yeovil Hospital where, in June, the specialists saw 140 suspected cases of skin cancer and 58 of those patients were diagnosed with a form of the disease (41 per cent). For the same month last year, a similar number of patients were seen but only 24 per cent were confirmed as skin cancer.

The South West has higher rates of malignant melanoma than the national average, with Somerset being reported at 44.40 per cent above the national average.

Skin Cancer & Dermatology Clinical Nurse Specialist Mihaela Savu said: “I’ve heard the argument that people don’t cover up as they need Vitamin D. Yes it is important for our bodies and it comes from the sun, but we only need ten minutes exposure to get the amount we need.

“Sun cream and keeping covered are absolutely essential as sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer which can develop slowly over time. So while sunburn might feel better in a few days, it may have done long term damage which could be fatal.

“Remember to check your skin regularly for changing moles, including itching or bleeding, and if in doubt get checked out by your GP. Many of our referrals are patients who have been pressured to come in by family members. It is really important that we talk about it with relatives and friends and mention if you notice a mole that looks a bit different – it may be that person hasn’t noticed. You could save a life!”

Latest statistics from Public Health England show that in the South West there was a 31.9 per cent rise in incidence of malignant melanoma between 2009 and 2014, from 1,444 cases to 1,906 cases. There was also a 14.5 per cent rise in mortality from malignant melanoma, from 248 deaths in 2009 to 284 deaths in 2014.

NHS England South West Medical Director Caroline Gamlin said: “Being outdoors is clearly crucial for farmers, builders, gardeners, Post Office workers and others, and for people who take part in a lot of outdoor sport, but there are simple steps can be taken to lower the risk of skin cancer and be sun safe.

“Men in particular need to take much more care. They need to use at least factor 15 sunscreen and apply it generously on all exposed skin – not forgetting their necks, ears and bald patches!”

Top sun safe tips include:

  • Use at least factor 15 sunscreen in the sun and use plenty of it
  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin – don’t forget your neck and ears and your head if you have thinning or no hair
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat
  • Take particular care if have fair skin, moles or freckles, red or fair hair, or light-coloured eyes.

Official NHS Choices advice on sun safety can be found here.


Case study – Oliver Guy, Ash, Somerset

Age: 22

Age when diagnosed: 17 when the malignant melanoma was discovered

When did you first notice changes in your skin and what were the symptoms?

I first noticed, or rather a friend did when I had blood seeping through the back of my t shirt. It was coming from a halo mole which was on my back. After seeing my GP I was referred to a mole specialist, they came to the conclusion that the bleeding one on my back was of no concern but one on the side of my face, and another on the top of my shoulder was.

Did you wear sun cream as a child?

Yes. We were always sure to have a high factor sun cream on at the glimpse of any sun as kids. And was never one to seek the heat. I have never sunbathed as I don’t like the heat which is why this diagnosis was more of a shock as we had always been so careful in younger life. I am one of four.

What was the process?

I went to my GP, who referred me to a dermatologist, which led to day surgery in Yeovil Hospital for mole removal, which was sent off for tests. After testing positive for melanoma, I was called back to Yeovil Hospital for results. I was told an operation would take place in the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital to have 2cm of flesh cut away and lymph node biopsy. Luckily this came back negative. Then every three months for three years I saw two specialists (Rachael and Mihaela), and this then moved to every six months for the last two years.

How do you feel now about staying safe in the sun?

I have learnt the most important areas to protect from the sun and passed this knowledge onto my friends. I know what melanoma does not like and now know how to avoid setting symptoms off. Overall I am confident to be able to do my job as a builder and enjoy the sun without doing any damage. I can now pass all of this information onto my friends which also, makes them aware, and they can now pass this information onto others.

The latest “Cover Up, Mate” campaign targets those who work outside, such as builders. As a builder yourself, do you find others around you do take care to protect themselves?

Not to the extent that I know they need to in order to be safe from the dangers of skin cancer. As someone who has had skin cancer, it is wrong for me not to explain the harm they could be doing to themselves, and how they can prevent it. It’s their choice to take the precautions from then on.

From your own experience, do you have a message you would like to get across?

Places like building sites, which are generally all men, and other trades would consider it ‘uncool’ to apply sun protection. But it seems to be a lot more ‘uncool’ to suffer the consequences of skin cancer. For people with young families, they really need to be aware so that they set a good example to the people that look up to them. All of my friends are in their 20s and they now will happily wear sun cream when needed as they know the consequences. At the end of the day it’s not worth risking your health to take two minutes out of your day to apply sun cream, all my friends and I are aware and take the precautions and we hope we can get this message across to others.

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