June 16, 2024


Melanoma skin cancer rates have hit an all-time high in the UK, according to analysis which highlights a significant rise in the number of cases over the past decade, particularly among older people.

New diagnoses increased by almost a third between 2007-09 and 2017-19 from 21 to 28 in every 100,000 people, according to Cancer Research UK (CRUK) figures, with a 57% rise among the over-80s and a 7% rise in those aged 25-49.

The difference in trends is thought to reflect a greater awareness among younger people of the link between ultraviolet (UV) light and skin cancer risk. Older people knew less about the dangers of tanning and were the first generation to be exposed to the cheap package holiday boom that started in the 1960s.

CRUK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said it was “worrying” to see how many people across the UK are being diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. “The fact that the majority of these cases are preventable highlights the importance of people taking sun safety seriously.”

The charity’s projections suggest that a record 20,800 cases will be diagnosed in the UK this year, around 17,000 of which are preventable. Almost 90% of melanoma is caused by too much exposure to UV light, which can damage DNA in the skin.

Other factors, such as a growing and aging population, and better awareness of the signs of skin cancer, have contributed to the rising numbers.

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Despite the steady rise in cases, deaths from melanoma are expected to continue to fall, the charity said. Improvements in early diagnosis and treatment have doubled survival times from melanoma in the past 50 years, with almost nine in 10 adults diagnosed with the cancer in England now surviving for 10 years or more.

“Getting a sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of developing skin cancer, compared to never getting sunburned,” said Dr Claire Knight, a senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK. “Whether you’re enjoying the good weather abroad or here at home, it’s important to protect yourself from too much sun, especially if you burn easily.”

“Remember that sunburn doesn’t just happen when it’s hot,” she added. “It can also happen on cooler or cloudy days.” The charity advises people to spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm; to cover up with clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and UV protective sunglasses; and regularly apply a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and four or five stars.

The warning comes a month after doctors at University College London Hospital launched a phase three trial into a potentially “game-changing” mRNA-based cancer vaccine for melanoma. The personalized treatment, which prepares the immune system to attack the patient’s cancer cells, is in further trials for lung, bladder and kidney cancer.



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