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Spotlight On: Melanoma UK

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London, UK
Part of WPP Health Practice’s Patient Partnership Programme organised by the chief medical office discusses applying common sense to skin cancer protection
The summer may be all but over, but the risk of skin cancer never takes a holiday. This month, WPP Health’s 'spotlight on' patient support groups shines a UV-free light on Melanoma UK.

September marks the start of autumn, when the days are cooler and the nights longer. But, as we leave the summer behind us and put the Factor 50 back in the bottom drawer, it’s easy to forget that the health risks posed by UV rays don’t decrease with the fall in temperatures. They’re always there. It’s a message that really needs amplifying. Because, as our recent patient partnership webinar with Melanoma UK highlighted, current complacency around sun safety is enough to give anyone the chills…

Melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, where the disease kills 2,500 people every year and seven people every day. By 2040, that daily number is predicted to rise to 11 – the equivalent of a death every two to three hours. At the moment, men are more likely to develop melanoma skin cancer than women – a fact that’s less about biology and more about behaviour. If we continue on the same path, skin cancer in men will virtually double in the next decade. But the problem is global: mortality rates for melanoma are climbing all over the world.

The good news is that, when caught early, skin cancer is one of the most curable cancers. Success – whether that’s in reducing our risk of getting the disease or addressing it before it spreads – is all about our behaviours. Those goals are at the heart of Melanoma UK, a ‘small but mighty’ patient group whose mission is to raise awareness of melanoma through advocacy, education and research. Melanoma UK is not only the number one patient support organisation for skin cancer in the UK, it’s also a leading voice in the global melanoma community.

Sun Safety
The summer months are understandably key to the fight against melanoma. With 90% of skin cancers caused by direct exposure to the sun, it’s no surprise that August – the height of British holiday season – is ‘Sun Safety Month’ for Melanoma UK. One of its core messages is that regular use of sunscreen cuts the risk of melanoma by 73%. It’s a message that, despite years of warnings, needs making more than ever.

Data shows that, despite the risks, many believe that a suntan is worth it. 61% of people still think that having tanned skin is attractive. In fact, research shows that young people between 15 and 19 take the biggest risks and use the least protection when they go out in the sun. In the US, melanoma is the third most common cancer among 20-39 year olds. Clearly, there’s a long way to go to move the dial. As Diane Cannon, director corporate partnerships at Melanoma UK, said: “We don’t just want people to apply sunscreen, we want them to apply common sense.”

Melanoma UK
Melanoma UK has a broad remit. First and foremost, it promotes education and awareness of melanoma skin cancer. However, it also provides information on non-melanoma skin cancers – the most common being basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Its services are fundamentally patient-led – but the scope of its work extends to the medical professional, with Melanoma UK’s clinical team playing a crucial role in helping clinicians detect and diagnose skin cancer. The organisation provides emotional (and sometimes financial) support for melanoma patients and caregivers, as part of its wider ambition to be the patient voice for the melanoma community. It also provides the patient perspective in the development of treatments and services for skin cancer. For example, it plays a leading advocacy role in consultations with NICE, and has recently funded two mole-mapping machines for the NHS.

Ultimately, one of the biggest weapons against melanoma skin cancer is early detection – likely to be the most effective way of improving outcomes for the disease. A key driver of early detection is self-examination. Melanoma UK therefore urges everyone to do a head-to-toe self-examination of their skin every month. Or at least every full moon.

An ABC of self-examination, and what to look for, is available on the Melanoma UK website. Check it out, then check yourself out. Because it might just save your life.

Click here to find out more about all the patient groups that the chief medical office at WPP Health Practice has been partnering with.