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Rates of melanoma skin cancer hit all-time high in UK, study finds | Skin cancer

The analysis highlights that melanoma skin cancer rates in the UK are at an all-time high, with the number of cases increasing significantly over the past decade, particularly among older people.

Statistics from Cancer Research UK show that between 2007-09 and 2017-19, new diagnoses rose by almost a third, from 21 to 28 cases per 100,000 people, with a 57% increase in those over 80 and a 7% increase in those aged 25-49.

This difference in trends may reflect younger generations’ increased awareness of the link between ultraviolet (UV) radiation and skin cancer risk, compared with older generations who are less aware of the dangers of sunburn and who were first exposed to the discount package holiday boom that began in the 1960s.

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

Charities predict a record 20,800 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the UK this year, of which around 17,000 are preventable. Around 90% of melanomas are caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, which damages the skin’s DNA.

Other factors, including a growing and ageing population and increased awareness of the signs of skin cancer, are also contributing to the rising numbers.

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The charity said that despite a steady rise in the number of cases, the number of deaths from melanoma is expected to continue to fall. Over the past 50 years, early diagnosis and improved treatment have doubled melanoma survival times, and in England, almost nine in 10 adults diagnosed with melanoma now survive for more than 10 years.

“Tanning just once every two years can triple your risk of developing skin cancer compared to someone who never tans,” said Dr Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK. “Whether you’re enjoying the good weather abroad or at home, it’s important to protect yourself from excessive sun exposure, especially if you burn easily.”

“Remember that sunburn doesn’t just happen when it’s hot,” she added. “It can also happen on cool or cloudy days.” The charity recommends staying in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm, covering up skin with clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, and regularly applying a four- or five-star sunscreen with at least SPF30.

The warning comes a month after doctors at University College London Hospital began phase three trials of a potentially “groundbreaking” mRNA-based cancer vaccine for melanoma. The personalised treatment, which primes a patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells, is undergoing further trials against lung, bladder and kidney cancer.

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