The study, carried out at the Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, found that of a group of 270 recent kidney transplant patients, the elder patients were a lot less likely to use sunscreen during sun exposure, both before and after treatment.
More significantly, patients who were 50 years or older were significantly less likely to use sunscreen products, despite the fact that they are in the highest risk group.
The study is particularly interesting because of the increased risk of skin cancer transplant patients are exposed to. The incidence of squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma is significantly higher in these patients because of the immunosuppressive drugs prescribed after their transplant operations.
Scientific evidence suggests that the longer the treatment with the drugs, the higher the risk the patient has of succumbing to skin cancer.
The study shows that in Irish transplant patients 40 per cent will go on to develop skin cancer within 20 years of their operation. Likewise, in Australia, 82 per cent of transplant patients in Queensland, Australia have gone on to develop skin cancer.
These statistics formed the basis of the study, as a means of determining how this outcome is influenced by sunscreen use.
Of the 270 transplant patients in the study group, the average age was 46.9 years old and most had had their transplants and subsequent treatments 6.8 years ago. The patients were graded according to skin type, sun burn history and family history of skin cancer.
Patients were also asked about their compliance with sunscreen use, especially when outside in the period between May and September.
Of the total group, 56 patients developed non melanoma skin cancers, mainly on sun-exposed areas such as the face and neck.
Prior to their transplant 68.5 per cent of patients admitted that they had never applied sunscreen on a sunny day, with 25.9 per cent applying cream sometimes and 5.6 per always applying cream.
After the transplant, awareness of the increased risk of skin cancer due to the immunosuppressive treatment meant that the number of patients occasionally using sun cream increased to 36.7 per cent.
However, the most interesting results occurred when the data was narrowed down according to age group, with the median age of those always applying sunscreen on a sunny day prior to transplant registering 31.6 years and the median age for those never applying sunscreen on a sunny day rising to 51.3 years.
After transplant these figures rose to a median age of 45.5 years for those always applying sunscreen on a sunny day and 53.8 years for those who never applied sunscreen.
The research result indicate that the key to prevention of skin cancers in all patients was the use of sunscreen, but that getting the message through to the older age groups was far more difficult, despite that fact that there was not great difference in basic awareness to the dangers of sun exposure and the increased risk of developing skin cancer between the different age groups.
The researchers said that the older the patient, the more likely they were likely to make statements such as 'my skin can take the sun', indicating that there was a false sense of security with age, when in actual fact the risk of developing skin cancer increases.
The findings reinforce the importance and continued need for education about the awareness of skin cancer and the importance of sunscreen to help prevent its development. But equally, it also indicates that campaigns by both cancer awareness bodies and sun screen manufacturers themselves, should be targeting older age groups.