The number of cases of skin cancer increased by 35% in the 12 years between 2004 and 2016, the last year for which figures are available, according to Euromelanoma, the European organisation of dermatologists. Around 39,000 new cases are reported every year, according to the association’s Belgian president Thomas Maselis, speaking to the VRT. The reason: Belgians have not fully taken in the lessons of exposure to the sun.
“All year long we go outside far too little, and far too much when we go on holiday,” he said. “We have the wrong approach to sunlight, more specifically ultraviolet light.
Throughout most of the year, when we go outside at all, we are wrapped in scarf, gloves and headgear, barely exposed to what sunlight there is. “Then we spend ten days sitting in trunks or a swimsuit on a beach. We put the children in a swimming pool where they cool off without noticing they’re being burned.”
That has, he explained, been the pattern for half a century, but the effects are cumulative, and the growth of sunbeds adds to the problem. “We’re now paying the price,” he said. “In between the damaging exposure to ultraviolet light and the development of skin cancer there can be a gap of ten to 30 years.”
There is some good news: “Despite the 350% increase in skin cancers, we are not seeing more deaths. Mortality remains steady, and those people with a melanoma – the most dangerous kind of skin cancer – are much more ready to see a doctor.”
For the rest, the advice remains unchanged: go outside more in winter, exposing skin to the light in order to build up Vitamin A; stay in the shade in summer at the most dangerous time of day, between 11.00 and 16.00; cover up in the sun, particularly in the case of children, who should wear a T-shirt even in the pool, and a hat at all times; use enough sun cream, sufficiently strong for your skin type, and too much is better than too little.
Euromelanoma, meanwhile, plans a new campaign beginning next month in the run-up to the summer holidays, stressing the dangers of sunlight and the best way to avoid trouble,