Concern for children as skin cancer rate rises

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THE DEPARTMENT of Health is urgently considering how to warn parents of the dangers of sunburn in babies and young children, following recommendations of its advisory committee on radiation and the environment, writes Celia Hall.

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) expressed its concern yesterday over the 50 per cent increase in the most serious form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, between 1980 and 1986.

'We consider this rising incidence of skin cancers constitutes a public health problem,' the Comare statement says, in response to the Government's request for its views on the adverse effects of ultraviolet radiation on health.

The UK health departments had asked for advice in the light of concern over raised levels of skin cancer, and over changes in solar ultraviolet radiation 'secondary to possible changes in the stratospheric ozone layer'.

The committee reports an increase in melanoma cases from 1,827 to 2,635, and for other skin cancers from 19,000 to 25,000 in the six years to 1986. 'We consider that there is sufficient evidence to show that skin cancer incidence is related to exposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation and that risk is determined largely by patterns of exposure,' it says. 'In particular the committee recommends that there is a need to advise about the potential long-term dangers of sunburn to children and babies.'