Melanoma skin cancer rates hit all-time high in UK, study finds | Skin cancer

Rates of melanoma skin cancer have reached an all-time high in the UK, according to an analysis that highlights a substantial increase in the number of cases over the last decade, particularly among older people.

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

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

CRUK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said it was “concerning” to see the number of people diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer across the UK. “The fact that most of these cases are preventable underlines the importance of people taking sun protection seriously.”

The charity’s projections suggest a record 20,800 cases will be diagnosed in the UK this year, of which around 17,000 are preventable. Nearly 90% of melanomas are caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, which can damage the DNA in the skin.

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

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

“Getting sunburned just once every two years can triple your risk of developing skin cancer, compared to never getting sunburned,” said Dr Claire Knight, 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,” he added. “It can also occur on colder or cloudier days.” The charity advises people to spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm; cover yourself with clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection; and periodically 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 of an mRNA-based cancer vaccine for melanoma that could be a “game changer.” The personalized treatment, which primes the immune system to attack the patient’s cancer cells, is in additional trials for lung, bladder and kidney cancer.

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