“We are faced with a gradual but continuous increase in the number of melanomas in Brittany over the past 30 years: we are three times higher than the French average”, worries Élodie Poullin, director of the CPAM of Côtes-d’Armor, in charge of coordinating prevention in the Brittany region.

Thus, in June, an awareness campaign “Alerte Breizh” was launched on social networks, in a humorous tone and making fun of Breton clichés: “Put more sunscreen on your head than butter on your pancake” or “put on your round hat to protect your egg skull”.

Several factors can explain this singularity of the Armorican peninsula, with nearly a thousand melanomas diagnosed each year and, in women, “a significant excess mortality of 28% compared to metropolitan France”, according to Health Insurance.

First of all, the inhabitants tend not to protect themselves against sometimes cool and cloudy weather. “However, despite everything that is said (on the Breton climate, editor’s note), Brittany still has a significant UV incidence”, notes dermatologist Luc Sulimovic, president of the National Syndicate of Dermatologists-Venereologists (SNDV).

“Sunburn can also occur when the temperature is lower, in terms of intensity from UV level 3, you have to protect yourself and not just at the beach,” adds Ms. Poullin.

Another explanation for this Breton singularity: the settlement. “Among the population, we have a lot of phototype 1. When we have light skin, eyes, skin tone, hair color, we are genetically more at risk of developing cancer”, underlines Ms. Poullin.

Finally, in a region where the coasts are counted in thousands of kilometres, the inhabitants tend to be outdoors a lot, not to mention a large population of farmers and fishermen “who are continuously exposed” without always having the reflex to use sunscreen, notes Nicole Cochelin, dermatologist in Montfort-sur-Meu, west of Rennes.

– “Educate to protect yourself from UV” –

This increase occurs while Brittany is experiencing a shortage of dermatologists, able to screen for skin cancers which can prove fatal. “In Saint-Brieuc, there were ten dermatologists ten years ago, there is now only one. And of the 120 dermatologists in Brittany, 30% will retire within five years”, alarmed Dr. Cochelin, elected to the Regional Union of Health Professionals (URPS).

Also, to deal with this situation, dermatologists have set up since the summer of 2021 acts of tele-expertise with general practitioners. “There is a big problem with people who cannot be seen. We want to limit the loss of chance, the general practitioners take a photo and send it to us”, she explains, specifying that there is had more than a thousand tele-expertise in one year.

Still, the increase in skin cancer is a global and lasting phenomenon, according to the World Health Organization, which in 2020 identified more than 1.5 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed and more than 120,000 associated deaths in the world.

Overall, “people are more and more outdoors and more and more on vacation. Asian populations protect themselves from the sun, not Western societies. Tanning is synonymous with I have been on vacation. People will have to learn how to protect yourself from UV rays”, supports Mr. Sulimovic, stressing the importance of prevention and early detection.