Skin cancer rising fastest in Wales with people 'struggling to afford sunscreen'

Rebecca Turner is warning others after being diagnosed with skin cancer herself.

Rates of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) are rising faster in Wales than anywhere else in the UK, according to worrying new statistics.

It comes as data shows nearly half of people in Wales think sunscreen is too expensive amidst the cost of living crisis, with 14% not using it at all due to the cost.

The group of cancers - the most common form of the disease in Wales - has risen by more than 7% in just four years.

Adjusting for differences in age, two-and-a-half times more people are getting NMSCs than prostate cancer, which has the second highest incidence rate.

In 2019, NMSCs accounted for 43% of all new cancer cases in Wales.

It is the first time official statistics have been released on this form of the disease.

There are concerns rates of NMSC, most commonly caused by the sun, will increase as people struggle to pay for sunscreen.

Rebecca said she rarely used sunscreen growing up.

Rebecca Turner, 44, from the Vale of Glamorgan, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma after noticing a small red spot on her chest which grew into a lump.

She supports the call for VAT on high-factor sunscreens to be cut to make them more affordable.

Rebecca's diagnosis came despite having olive skin and dark hair, which would typically leave her at lower risk than people with paler skin.

The nurse, who said she lives in constant fear the cancer will spread, has friends and family who buy cheaper, low-quality sunscreen, or are not buying any at all because they cannot afford it despite seeing her ordeal.

Her warning comes during Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to educate people on the dangers around skin cancer and the sun.

Unlike many other cancers, there is less risk of NMSCs spreading, although it can still happen. This means cases can be treated more successfully if caught early.

Professor Dyfed Wyn Huws, Director of the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit at Public Health Wales, said: “These new figures show us just how common non-melanoma skin cancer is in Wales."

He added: “There are a few simple steps that we can all take to reduce the risk of skin cancer. While time spent outdoors is good for us, too much time exposed to the sun increases our risk."

Talking about how people can protect themselves, Professor Wyn Huws said: “We recommend staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day and keep babies out of direct sunlight at all times.

“Wear a hat, clothing that covers up your arms and legs, and sunglasses if you’re outdoors from mid-morning to mid-afternoon (even if it’s overcast in summer) and use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF30, especially if you have paler skin.  

"In addition, people with certain health conditions such as previous skin cancer, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and HIV, should take extra care, as the evidence suggests that they have a greater risk of NMSC.”

He added people should see their GP "if you have marks on your skin which grow, bleed, change in appearance in any way or never heal completely or form a scab that falls off and then grows again. Any existing moles that change in size, shape, colour or texture also need to be seen by your GP."

People are struggling to afford sunscreen, despite the hot weather looking set to continue

In a statement the Welsh Government said it is important "for people to realise there is no safe way to get a tan", adding: “We urge people to spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest, cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses, and take extra care with children. Using, at minimum, SPF15 suncream with UVA protection is recommended to help keep our skin safe.

“We have worked with Melanoma Focus to promote their campaign and with Health Boards to help spread the message among people in Wales.”

A spokesperson for the UK Government said: “We recognise the impact that rising prices are having at home which is why we are providing significant support worth on average £3,300 per household. This includes holding down energy bills, uplifting benefits and delivering direct cash payments.

“High-factor sunscreen is on the NHS prescription list for certain conditions and is already provided VAT free when dispensed by a pharmacist to these patients.”

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