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Why skin cancer cases have more than doubled since the early 1990s

A range of factors have come together to push up incidence rates in the past three decades or so

Skin cancer cases have shot up in the UK in the past few decades to record levels, with the boom of cheap package holidays from the 60s seen as a big factor.

But that is by no means the only reason why, according to Cancer Research UK figures, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates in men have almost tripled since the early 90s, with a near 50 per cent jump in the past decade alone.

Meanwhile, skin cancer rates in females have around doubled in three decades – with a 30 per cent increase in the past 10 years, it says.

As a result, Cancer Research said on Thursday that skin cancer cases have reached record levels with 17,500 people diagnosed each year in the UK.

Other factors behind the surge in cases include an ever increasing desire to look attractive, fuelled by social media in recent years, means millions aspire to a nice tan.

This sees many spending large amounts of time in the sun or forgoing sun screen, which can protect against cancerous rays but also reduces any tan (not completely but substantially).

Add to that a population that is ageing as people live longer – with age a key risk factor for cancer.
Meanwhile, part of the increase can be put down to more people being tested and therefore diagnosed as awareness of skin cancer becomes greater and people get better at recognising the warning signs.

The increase in skin cancer cases among men is rising even faster than for women, according to Cancer Research UK – although the reasons for that are unclear.

Cancer Research UK says there has been a particular rise in skin cancer cases among adults aged 55 and over.

Case rates among this age group have risen by 195 per cent since the 90s.

Between 1993 and 1995 some 21.3 people aged 55 and over out of every 100,000 were diagnosed with melanoma, a figure that rose to 62.9 cases per 100,000 between 2017 and 2019.

Cancer Research UK has estimated that across all age groups, melanoma skin cancer cases could increase by around 50 per cent over the next 20 years, hitting a record 26,500 a year by 2040.

But despite the rise in cases, deaths from the disease are decreasing, it said. CRUK said that early diagnosis and treatment means that more people than ever will survive the disease.

“Our new analysis paints a mixed picture for cancer patients and the staff who care for them. While it’s promising that more people are seeking treatment for skin cancer earlier and survival is improving, it’s alarming that cases of the disease could soar over the coming years,” said Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell.

“Melanoma is the UK’s fifth most common cancer, and we know that 86 per cent of these skin cancers could be prevented. It’s important to take care in the sun and to contact your GP if you notice any unusual changes to your skin – it’s not just changes to a mole that matter, it could be a sore that doesn’t heal or any unusual changes to an area of your skin. Spotting cancer early can make all the difference,” she said.

Cancer Research UK’s advice on reeducing the risk of skin cancer:

Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple the risk of developing skin cancer. Here’s how to protect yourself against skin cancer:

• Seek shade: especially between the hours of 11am-3pm in the UK, when the sun is strongest
• Cover up with clothing: wear a shirt with sleeves that cover your shoulders, a wide-brimmed hat and UV protection sunglasses
• Apply sunscreen: regularly and generously, choose one with at least SPF 15 and 4 or more stars

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