08 May 2014

S4M-09392 Skin Cancer

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-09392, in the name of Fiona McLeod, on ultraviolet radiation awareness to prevent melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the increase in the prevalence of skin cancers between 1987 and 2011 as published in the NHS Information Services Division report, Cancer Incidence in Scotland (2011); notes that the report highlights morbidity and mortality from UV radiation induced cancers; is concerned that there is a continuing increase in the number of people with melanoma in the 15 to 34 age range, including in Strathkelvin and Bearsden; notes the potentially significant human, personal, financial and societal costs of what it understands is Scotland’s most common form of cancer, and believes that sun protection is an important part of decreasing the prevalence of skin cancers.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I congratulate Fiona on bringing this important and interesting debate to the Parliament.

It is worth looking at the science that underpins some of this. The ultraviolet rays that we have been talking about have a wavelength in the range of 100 to 400 nanometres, so quite a narrow range of light causes the problem, albeit that ultraviolet light is important and omnipresent. It is particularly interesting that the part of ultraviolet light that is most likely to reach us is in the most dangerous part of that narrow range.

Jackson Carlaw and other members have talked about their experiences. I was so badly sunburned as a 10-year-old, in 1956, that I had sunstroke and had to be hospitalised. My father, who was a general practitioner, did something important on the back of that experience: he counselled me to look at my skin critically for the rest of my life and he described some of the things to which I should pay close attention.

That is an important point, which I hope is made by everyone who advises people who have been burned, because checking one’s skin is simple and cost free. People do not need to be particularly technical; they should just look for changes and not assume that they are trivial.

I have a particular reason for saying that. A good friend, Mitchell Burnett, who was a councillor of ours in Aberdeenshire, developed a tiny black spot on the top of his ear. When I say “tiny”, I am talking about something that was not the width of a pen—certainly less than 20mm across. It killed him. It took a while to do it—it was clipped out, but the cancer came back and went into his scalp. The start of skin cancer can be quite small and early action is needed.

Ken Macintosh: Dr Girish Gupta, a dermatologist at Monklands hospital, says that the advent of digital cameras makes checking one’s skin easy, because a person can take a photograph of, for example, their own back, head and neck every year and compare the photos. That is a good way of detecting moles. Does Mr Stevenson agree that that is good advice?

Stewart Stevenson: I wonder whether my wife will allow me to upgrade my camera on the basis of that advice, which sounds like very good advice indeed.

Jackson Carlaw talked about walking under clouds. The science is quite interesting. Where the cloud is thin and high, the risk of UV impact is raised compared with the risk under totally clear skies. I think that people are relatively unaware of that.

This is an issue for the whole population, even if they never go in the sun, because climate change is changing the impact of UV. The increase in temperature in the troposphere is matched by a decrease in temperature in the stratosphere—in other words, the upper bit—and, as that happens, it promotes the growth of a particular cloud type called polar stratospheric clouds, which increases the size of holes in the ozone layer and lets more UV through. There are issues for us all and we need to protect people who are particularly susceptible. I will go away and consider my personal make-up as a result of Jackson Carlaw’s comment.

When I looked this morning at who had signed the motion, I noticed that no Tories or Liberals had signed it, though I am delighted to see Jackson Carlaw here. I have therefore concluded that for the Tories and Liberals, their time in the sun is over.


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