Sun safety for children – new research will explore role of primary schools in preventing skin cancer

Swansea University

With skin cancer rates rising, much of it preventable, a new research project is to explore the role of primary schools in Wales and assess the effectiveness of sun safety policies in protecting children. The results will help improve prevention of skin cancer in Wales and beyond.

Skin cancer now accounts for half of all cancers in England and Wales, with Wales seeing a 79.6% rise in melanoma cases (one of two types of skin cancer) between 2002 and 2018. However, with melanoma, 86% of cases can be prevented through less exposure to the sun’s ultra-violet radiation.

Studies show that children who are badly sunburned are more likely to develop melanoma skin cancer when they are older. Children spend almost half their time at school often playing and learning outdoors, so one crucial way to prevent skin cancer is to teach children at school how to protect themselves from the sun.

Teaching sun safety is currently left to schools’ discretion in Wales. Some have a sun safety policy, which sets out how they will teach children about the subject, and what steps the school will take, for example on providing shade or helping to apply sunscreen.

The Swansea-led research team will examine what is currently being taught in Welsh schools about sun safety and what influence this has on the knowledge and behaviour of children, teachers, staff and school managers.

The project – called Sunproofed – involves experts from the Trials Unit at Swansea University Medical School, data experts from Swansea’s SAIL Databank, and NHS colleagues from Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

The project will see the team:

  • Send out a questionnaire to all primary schools in Wales to discover if they have a sun safety policy in place and to identify what support schools need in this area
  • Evaluate NHS data on serious sunburn in children, using anonymised health records held by Swansea University’s SAIL Databank, to see what it reveals about the impact of sun safety policies
  • Visit five schools -some with and some without a sun safety policy – to speak to children, parents, school staff and governors to find out what they know about sun safety
  • Publish guidance for schools on the best way to implement a sun safety policy, working with school communities and experts in education and skin cancer

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