Two-thirds of outdoor workers say firms don’t offer skin cancer protection help

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Almost two-thirds of outdoor workers say their employer does not do enough to help protect them against non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) – a cancer that affects more people per year than breast, prostate and lung cancers combined, according to a new report.

People who usually work outdoors, such as construction workers or agricultural staff, are more than twice as likely to develop NMSC than those who work indoors because of the level of ultraviolet light they are exposed to, healthcare firm Sanofi Genzyme said.

However, a survey of more than 3,600 people conducted for its The State of the Nation: Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer report found nearly two-thirds (64%) of people who work outside for more than one hour per day do not get help from their employer to protect themselves against skin cancer, while 58% said they wanted such help.

Public awareness of NMSC is worryingly low, despite more than 152,000 cases being diagnosed each year, the report suggested.

The survey found 40% of UK adults were not confident about identifying the signs of NMSC when presented with the four most common symptoms – a scab or sore that won’t heal, a scaly or crusty patch of skin, a flesh coloured bump that grows, or a “volcano like” growth. Just 23% were able to correctly identify the signs of NMSC.

Seven in 10 (69%) did not recognise it as a form of skin cancer, and 38% did not know what the risk factors were. Only 28% said they would take more precautions had they known what increased their risk of getting NMSC.

Risk factors include sun exposure, use of tanning booths and sunlamps and exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, but also unavoidable factors such as inherited conditions and having certain skin, hair and eye colours.

Only 15% of adults in the UK would apply sunscreen and wear a hat when outside in the sun, and 13% admitted they take no precautions at all to avoid direct sunlight in the summer months.

“The publication of this report has highlighted the major gap that still remains in protecting outdoor workers from NMSC – they are at much higher risk for skin cancer and the ones who we should be protecting the most,” said Sir Edward Leigh, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin.

“We hope that this will encourage the government to improve the education and guidance provided to employers about skin cancer prevention and detection, and the psychological support needed for people who live beyond skin cancer.”

The report recommends that policy makers:

  • seek to improve awareness of skin cancer symptoms, including those of NMSC, and promote sun safety measures to prevent skin cancer
  • provide all patients with NMSC access to high-quality information and support to deal with the physical and psychological impacts of the disease and its treatment
  • work towards improving data and evidence on NMSC
  • ensure that health workforce planning across the UK, including the upcoming NHS People Plan, recognises the rapidly increasing prevalence of NMSC and plan for the impact that this will have
  • ensure skin cancer multidisciplinary teams have access to a range of specialisms and competencies, to ensure patients  receive the full range of appropriate care.
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