SCHOOL nurse and skin cancer survivor Rachael Willoughby has urged parents to protect their children from the dangers of the sun as summer approaches.

The 37-year-old, who medics said got the disease from overexposure as a child, said she too often sees youngsters who have been put at risk.

Official figures show Oxfordshire has a significantly higher rate of 27.2 skin malignant melanoma cases per 100,000 people compared to the average rate of 16.8 in the UK.

More foreign holidays and greater use of sunbeds because of the county’s relative affluence are thought to explain the figure.

She said: “I’m quite passionate about parents putting suncream on their children before they go to school. It takes one instance of burning in your childhood to increase your risk of melanoma as an adult so there needs to be more education.”

The school health nursery assistant – who works around Bicester – often sees sunburnt children and said parents must use four-star cream.

Mrs Willoughby, who helped set up a Facebook support group with more than 800 members, added: “You also see babies with no socks on. People don’t think it will happen to them.”

The mum-of-two girls, aged nine and 12, was diagnosed four years after a GP gave the all-clear over a new mole on her ankle in 2006.

It was noticed by another GP in 2010 and having been found to have grown 5mm since 2006 was removed in a simple day operation.

But she was recalled for major, four-hour surgery including a skin graft on her ankle over fears the cancer could return.

The Middleton Stoney resident – married to Justin, 39 - said: “I didn’t really at that point realise how serious melanoma was.

“Initially I thought it would be nothing because I had already been reassured four years previously.

“When I thought this could mean a death sentence, it was a complete shock.”

Mrs Willoughby, who has check-ups at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital every three months, said: “I’m not a sun worshipper, however I have got burnt, especially in my teenage years.

“I had never used suncream apart from on my own children when I was diagnosed.”

Latest figures from 2010 show 190 cases were diagnosed in Oxfordshire with 17 deaths that year.

Macmillan skin cancer nurse specialist Ma Hong, who works at city NHS hospitals, said: “Some of the early signs of melanoma may be a mole that changes colour, bleeds, itches or is painful, or the development of a new mole.

“Skin cancer, if caught early, is very treatable and actually has one of the highest survival rates of all cancers.

  • To visit the Facebook group search Melanomamates UK Facebook Group


  • Melanoma is the more rare and serious type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs.
  • The most common signs are a new mole or a change in an existing mole, usually the back, legs, arms and face
  • They are usually irregularly shaped, more than one colour and can sometimes itch or bleed
  • Risk factors are pale skin that burns easily, red or blond hair, lots of moles or freckles or a family member who has had melanoma
  • An early diagnosis usually results in successful surgery
  • Non-melanoma skin cancers slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin and usually begins with a lump or patch that does not heal quickly
  • Cancerous lumps are red and firm while cancerous patches are often flat and scaly
  • People are urged to see their GP if it has not healed after four weeks
  • They are linked with overexposure to ultraviolet light