A recent study, presented by researchers at the World Congress of Cancers of the Skin in Scotland, has shown that many British doctors take part in activities that put them at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

The researchers, from Sandwell and West Midlands Hospitals NHS Trust, Birmingham and North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, Carlisle, advocate that sun safety advice be made more widely available to medical professionals.

The study showed that a third of doctors demonstrated sun-seeking behaviours, such as sunbathing and tanning. 10 per cent of respondents admitted to using sunbeds, despite the fact that the link between skin cancer and sunbeds has been well documented. In 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, classified sunbeds as a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans), the same classification as given to tobacco.

The study reflected similar trends that previous research1 has revealed amongst the general public, in that female doctors reported more frequent sun-protective behaviours compared to their male colleagues. Despite their caution though, women were more likely to have more than one incidence of sunburn a year than men.

The study revealed that only one in three doctors has performed self examination of their skin in the last 12 months, despite recommendations from the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) to check skin monthly. Interestingly, a similar survey conducted by the BAD in 2013 showed that ordinary members of the public check their skin more frequently, with 43 per cent of the general public compared with 65 per cent of doctors responding that they have not examined their skin for signs for skin cancer.

Dr Jingyuan Xu, one of the researchers from Sandwell and West Midlands Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “The attitudes and behaviours of doctors don’t just impact on their own wellbeing, but can have an influence on how these messages are relayed to patients and the wider public. It’s very important that people are aware that ultraviolet radiation from the sun increases the risk of skin cancer, and that they understand the benefits of enjoying the sun safely.

“It is worrying that a large number of doctors are not looking after their skin in the sun, and only a third of them are checking their skin for cancer. This is a fairly simple thing to do and can make all the difference when it comes to catching potential skin cancers early.”

Matthew Gass of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “Most people enjoy spending time in the sun to one degree or another. However, it’s important to enjoy the sun responsibly, taking necessary precautions and avoiding getting sunburnt.

“It’s disappointing that some doctors are not following the advice that they should be passing on to others. Particularly worrying is the fact that 10 per cent of those questioned admitted to using sunbeds. We would hope by now that most doctors would recognise that if you are looking to get a tan, it’s much safer to get it from a bottle. It would be very interesting to see further studies in this area, with a larger sample size.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, with 13,348 people in the UK being diagnosed in 2011 and 2,209 deaths in the same year.

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