Melanoma is a deadly, but largely preventable, form of skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen is one of the most effective ways to protect against it, but new data released today by the charity Melanoma Focus has found that half (50%) of people in the UK think sunscreen is too expensive and 10% don’t use it at all because of the cost.
The research found that 32% of adults rarely or never use sunscreen in the UK (for a variety of reasons, including a wish to tan) but 67% of all respondents would use it more if it was 20% cheaper.
More encouragingly, most people are putting sunscreen on their children (87% of those surveyed with children reported doing so in the summer in the UK), of those which don’t regularly put sunscreen on their children, 12% say it’s because it’s too expensive.
Sunscreen prices in the UK can vary depending on the brand and the amount needed for the area of skin exposed to the sun. While there is increasing pressure on household budgets, experts advise that it is a critical form of protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Melanoma Focus is calling on the Government to remove the value added tax (VAT) for high-factor sunscreens to reduce the cost of this vital product for the general population, making it more accessible to those who cannot afford it.
The survey showed that 1 in 10 people aren’t wearing sunscreen because it is too expensive and people on the very lowest incomes are less likely to wear sunscreen than any other economic group. Other reasons cited were a desire to tan, a belief they won’t burn or a feeling that sunscreen is too messy and unpleasant to wear.
Skin cancer affects people from all economic backgrounds but, as with many cancers, has a link with poverty. Around 4,000 cases of melanoma skin cancer each year in England are linked with lower deprivation. This increases to around 25,000 when including non-melanoma skin cancer cases.
The unaffordability of sunscreen is therefore a big concern. Cases of melanoma are increasing in the UK and it is the deadliest form of skin cancer. There are around 2,300 melanoma skin cancer deaths in the UK every year (about seven every day) and the number of cases is expected to continue to rise. Projections suggest there could be around 26,500 new cases of melanoma skin cancer every year in the UK by 2038, an increase from the current figure of 16,700.
Sunscreen is a key tool in preventing melanoma skin cancer as well as covering up and staying out of the sun during the heat of the day, avoiding the use of sunbeds, and being aware of melanoma symptoms and seeking medical advice when necessary.
The survey also found that most British people (58%) can’t identify all the signs of melanoma skin cancer. Older people are more likely to know what to look out for but 81% of 18–25 year olds didn’t know the symptoms (dropping to 40% for the over 75s). Female respondents were much more informed with 75% knowing that a change in an existing mole or lesion could be a sign of melanoma skin cancer, this fell to 54% for males.
1 in 36 men and 1 in 47 women in the UK will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime. In women, the most common location for melanoma skin cancer is the legs, in men it is most likely to occur on the back.
Susanna Daniels, CEO of Melanoma Focus said: “Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK and the deadliest form of skin cancer. 86% of melanomas are preventable and therefore, wearing a high SPF sunscreen is a hugely important safety measure for protecting against it. We know that people are experiencing increasing pressures on their finances at the moment but, with skin cancer rates on the rise, the use of sunscreen should be a high priority.
“The Government could help make skin protection more accessible to all, regardless of income level by removing VAT from high-factor sunscreens. This would be a cost-effective way to cut the overall incidence of skin cancer and could help save lives.
“We’d also urge people to make themselves aware of melanoma symptoms and seek medical help if they notice anything suspicious, particularly any changes to a mole or lesion. Early detection leads to a higher cure rate and more treatment options”.
Michelle Richardson, age 49 from Petersfield, Hampshire, has stage 4 melanoma and said: “I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2018 after noticing an itchy mole on my back. I had an operation to remove it which was followed by 18 months of clear scans. But then I felt a lump on my pelvis, by the next day I had seven lumps and within a week I was no longer able to eat or walk and breathing was very difficult. A scan found the melanoma had spread throughout my body including in my spine, lungs, spleen and brain. I had stage 4 incurable melanoma and my life as I knew it changed forever.
“I was utterly terrified and felt so guilty about the thought of leaving my 10-year-old daughter without a mum. I had immunotherapy treatment for two years and I’m currently in remission and hope it stays that way for as long as possible.
“Sunscreen shouldn’t be a luxury product. It’s essential for protecting the health of the nation so I’m fully supportive of the proposed cut to VAT. Melanoma doesn’t discriminate and the rates are increasing, the government can do something about this yet they choose not to. Treatment for melanoma costs the NHS a fortune, so a VAT cut to the thing that can prevent it happening in the first place makes sense financially as well as morally.”
Amy Callaghan MP said: “More people wearing sunscreen means fewer people getting melanoma.
“But when 52% of people in my constituency can’t afford to turn on the heating, it’s unlikely they’ll take on extra expenses like sunscreen.
“That’s why we must make sunscreen more affordable by removing VAT.”