A 13-year-old boy diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, said yesterday he wantedto help other young people to avoid the disease.
Daniel Gibson, of Stockport, Greater Manchester, received his diagnosis on Wednesday after doctors removed four moles from his face and back. One turned out to be malignant.
Daniel appeared with his mother, Joan, 46, at a press conference organised by the Cancer Research Campaign to highlight the rapid growth in malignant melanoma, especially among young people. He said: "If it helps just one person, it's worth it."
In England and Wales, 150 people under 25 were diagnosed with the disease in 1993, according to the Office for National Statistics. The incidence has risen by 80 per cent among men and 60 per cent among women under 25 since 1979.
His mother, a hospital ward clerk, said her family had a strong history of melanoma. She had had a cancerous mole removed in her mid-30s, and both her parents had died of the disease, her mother at 42 and father at 65.
She said she had been a sun worshipper in her youth, but since receiving her diagnosis had done all she could to protect Daniel and her daughter, Loren, 18, who is unaffected. "I am devastated. I have done more than most of my friends - they think I am mad. I slap sun cream on all the kids. I make them wear hats and baggy T-shirts. I don't know what else I could have done."
Friends and neighbours, and even her husband, saw her as an over-protective mother, but she had reason, she said. The problem was persuading young people to take the risk seriously. "It's a street cred thing with the boys. They think it's sissy to put on the cream. It's not macho. That's got to change." Daniel said: "It looks a bit embarrassing when she comes round and slaps the cream on. I will probably do it myself in future."
Malignant melanoma is the fastest-growing cancer in Britain, with more than 5,000 cases diagnosed in 1996 and 1,640 deaths in 1998. One in 10 patients has a family history of the disease.
Dr John Ashworth, consultant dermatologist at Hope Hospital, Manchester, runs a walk-in clinic for melanoma patients, at which Daniel is being treated. He said that despite the boy's family history of melanoma, there was no doubt the sun had played a part.
"His mother said she and Daniel tanned easily. If you get tanned you must have had exposure to the sun. Even if you are very careful in the sun, you are still doing damage," said Dr Ashworth. Sun exposure was not the entire story - a fair complexion, a lot of moles on the skin and a family history all increase the risk - but the sun was the only factor people could change, he said.
Dr Ashworth said: "There is no safe way to expose your skin to sunshine. But it's human life; the message we have to try to get across is to be sensible about it."
In addition to wearing hats, T-shirts and cream and avoiding midday sun, people with freckles and moles should check them for changes. "Self- observation is the key, and go to your doctor as soon as you can if you see a suspicious mole or freckle," Dr Ashworth said.
Mrs Gibson said the outlook for Daniel was good because his cancer had been caught early. "I feel shocked that it happened, but not in the slightest bit negative. I am just very glad I went to the GP and was referred and things were dealt with very quickly."Reuse content