Will education win the war on skin cancer in Dorset?

Image caption In men aged over 65 deaths have risen from 4.5 per 100,000 to 15.2 per 100,000 over the past 30 years

During February men aged over 50 in Dorset will be in the spotlight as the focus of a new health campaign. Their homes will be leafleted and roadshows will beckon them to watch and listen in town centres.

Rather than asking them to choose healthier eating options, spend less time in the pub and take more exercise, the campaign will try to encourage husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles to take preventative action to avoid being diagnosed too late with the deadliest form of skin cancer - malignant melanoma.

Research shows that while women are efficient in spotting the classic signs - which include a change in the size and or colour of a mole, bleeding and inflammation - and alerting their GP, men tend to be more reticent.

The county-wide initiative is being jointly spearheaded by Cancer Research UK and Dorset NHS.

In May last year, the charity's figures revealed that although more women were diagnosed in the first place, more men die from the disease.


In men aged over 65 deaths have risen from 4.5 per 100,000 to 15.2 per 100,000 over the past 30 years.

Caroline Cerny, from Cancer Research UK, said men needed to learn to look after their skin.

"Too often men leave it up to their partners or mothers to remind them to use sunscreen or cover up with a shirt and hat, and even to visit the doctor about a worrying mole," she said.

Image caption Incidents and deaths from Melanoma are higher in the South West and South East

"It's crucial that people go to their doctor as soon as they notice any unusual changes to their skin or moles - the earlier the cancer is diagnosed the easier it will be to treat."

The campaign could not have been more timely with recent research revealing Weymouth and Portland in Dorset has the third highest rate in England for malignant melanoma.

Figures published by the South West Public Health Observatory (SWPHO) last year, show there were 25.35 cases per 100,000 people in the Dorset town and island between 2004 and 2006.

This is in marked contrast to the English average of 15.6.

Plymouth has the highest number of cases at 28.7 with Vale of White Horse in Oxfordshire a close second at 27.33.

The statistics represent the number of new cases of malignant melanoma in under 75s, Julia Verne, SWPHO's director, told BBC News.

Change in the law

"Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in young adults because young people heavily expose themselves to the sun," she said.

Research suggests the incidents and deaths from the disease are higher in the South West and South East regions.

Dr Verne said: "In the South West there are more people with fair skin and less people from ethnic minority groups who have better protection from the sun. The cases are highest in these regions because people are exposed to more hours of sunshine."

Dr Verne added: "Women tend to be more concerned about their appearance than men and are perhaps, less shy about asking for help.

"Also, melanomas in men frequently occur on their backs, where they cannot easily be seen."

Leslie Garcia is a mother-of-two who is fully aware of how important it is to regularly inspect the skin.

The 61-year-old, who lives in Bournemouth, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma after showing her GP a mole on her back that had been worrying her in March 2007. It was successfully removed.

In some quarters sunbeds are being partly blamed for the hike in melanoma cases. It is estimated there are 3,000 tanning salons in the UK which use them.

A new law which will come into force across England and Wales on 8 April is intended to safeguard children from using sunbeds.

The Sunbeds (Regulation) Private Members' Bill will make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to use them.

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