Mant Czechs neglect to use sun block as skin cancer rates rise

Every summer we are warned about the risks of spending too much time in the sun. But try to find a spot by the water in the Czech Republic and you may be out of luck. Czechs simply love soaking up the sun's rays. But are they careful enough? Perhaps not - despite the great variety of sunscreen creams on the market, skin cancer in the Czech Republic is on the rise.

Czechs seem to love the sun. When they vacation abroad, anywhere on a beach is their favorite destination. Even in the city of Prague, right on the banks of the Vltava River, you can find a small beach, full of Czech of all ages engaged in the serious sport of sunbathing.

But despite the warnings about the risks of skin damage and skin cancer, many still prefer a deep tan to a winter pale and do not seem to take the warnings seriously. I asked some people on the streets of Prague if they look after their skin in the summer.

Young man:"I don't unusually take care of my skin, I like just chilling out with my friends, so we spend a lot of time sun tanning and drinking some beers."

Man:"Maybe wear a hat or use some cream if it's sunny, not regularly though, not enough time and I don't really think about it so much."

Woman:"All day? Every day? No, no, only if I stay in the sun or do some sports or lying on the beach. But, when I go to work, I don't use it."

Dermatologists see the long term effects after years of exposure to the sun. Most recommend using a sunscreen cream everyday. Doctor Helena Jancova has the latest statistics on skin cancer in the Czech Republic.

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
"Skin cancer is on the rise in the Czech Republic, there are about fifteen thousand people a year who will find some kind of skin tumor. About five to seven per cent of these lead to malignant melanoma, the worst form of skin tumor. Today, more than three hundred people a year die from skin cancer."

Doctor Eva Obstova of the neurodermatology clinic in Vinohrady Hospital says the rate of skin tumors has increased by twenty per cent in the last ten years. She also says the numbers of malignant melanoma, the deadliest form, has doubled during this time. Even with rising numbers like these, Doctor Obstova still does not see Czechs who regularly use sunscreen.

"Even though there is information out there about sunscreens, it is not yet something that people regularly use. Even when sunbathing. On the other hand, because there are so many products on the market with sunscreens in them, like make-up, day creams, and lip-sticks, it is unavoidable that the consumer does not come in contact with them. But, it is time that people become aware of how important sunscreens are."

Given the well known health risks, why are Czechs such sun-worshippers? Dr Eva Obstova again.

"There is something very relaxing about sunbathing. When you are out in the sun, your body produces endorphins, hormones that create a sense of well being. So we are in a better mood.

There is also the idea that someone who is tanned is healthy and those who are very pale are not. These are some of the factors why people seek the sun and why they must to come back from vacation tanned."

Are certain types of people more likely to ignore the dangers of skin cancer? Doctor Jancova says those people who are most likely to use sun protection creams are those who are well educated and the younger generations. She says that dermatologists hold an annual screening and education campaign in May.

"The Czech Republic has joined the European Melanoma Day. On this day, dermatologists work for free and screen people for malignant melanoma. During this time there is also increased media and public awareness about the risks of too much exposure to the sun."

But despite this and other efforts to encourage Czechs to use sun block, rising rates of skin cancer suggest a lot more needs to be done. And low factor creams may not be enough - Doctors Jancova and Obstova recommend wearing a cream with a sun protective factor over 25.