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UK report finds low awareness of non-melanoma skin cancer

Public awareness in the UK about non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is ‘worryingly low’ and ‘urgent action’ is needed to improve sun protection for outdoor workers, concludes a new report by Sanofi.

More than 152,000 new cases of NMSC are diagnosed every year – more than breast, prostate and lung cancers combined.

Yet, according to a survey for The State of the Nation: Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer report, 40% of UK adults were not confident about identifying the signs of the disease, and when presented with the four most common symptoms (a scab or sore that won’t heal, a scaly or crusty patch of skin, a flesh coloured bump that grows, or a volcano like growth), just 23% were able to correctly identify them.

The report also highlights that more needs to be done to protect the UK’s outdoor workers, such as construction workers and farmers, who are more than twice as likely to develop NMSC as those that work indoors because of increased exposure to UV from the sun.

A survey of over 3,600 people in the UK showed that two 64% of employees who work outside for more than one hour per day are not getting help from their employers to protect against skin cancer.

More than half (58%) of outdoor workers said they wanted help from their employer to protect themselves against NMSC.

“The publication of this report has highlighted the major gap that still remains in protecting outdoor workers from NMSC – they are at much higher risk for skin cancer and the ones who we should be protecting the most,” said Sir Edward Leigh MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin.

“We hope that this will encourage the government to improve the education and guidance provided to employers about skin cancer prevention and detection, and the psychological support needed for people who live beyond skin cancer.”

NMSC cases are estimated to reach almost 400,000 by 2025. The challenges of curbing the rising rates of the disease are compounded by low numbers of senior dermatologists, under-reporting of NMSC and inconsistent quality of care throughout the UK, the report notes.

To address these challenges, it outlines five areas to be prioritised by the government and policymakers: 1) improving awareness of skin cancer and sun safety; 2) increasing patient access to disease information and support; 3) improving data on NMSC; 4) preparing for the growing impact of NMSC on the health system, and; 5) increasing patient access to a broader range of healthcare specialists.

With an ageing population and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report concludes that taking action now “will be vital to help reduce the increasing burden on the NHS”.