Record skin cancer cases – and numbers set to increase further

Melanoma skin cancer cases have reached an all-time high in the UK – but deaths from the disease are falling, according to new analysis published today.

The Cancer Research UK report shows there are 17,500 cases per year in the UK. It estimates cases could increase by about 50% over the next 20 years, hitting 26,500 a year by 2040.

The rise in rates in over-55s is likely to be linked to trends to have tanned skin and the cheap package holiday boom dating from the 1960s before people became more aware of skin cancer.

The charity also says other factors, such as a growing UK population and the fact that people are living longer are contributing to much of the rise in cases, adds to the tally, while more melanomas being diagnosed is also partly due to more people getting changes to their skin checked. 

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “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.

“Melanoma is the UK’s fifth most common cancer, and we know that 86% 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.”

Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, Dr Julie Sharp, urged everyone to take more care in the sun.

“Whether you are holidaying abroad or enjoying the good weather closer to home, it’s important to take steps to reduce your risk of skin cancer, especially if you burn easily,” she said.

“And remember sunburn doesn’t just happen on the hottest days, you can still get burnt when it’s cloudy.

“The best way to protect your skin when the sun is strong is to spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK, and to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses. Wearing sunscreen will also help you stay safe in the sun. Make sure you put plenty on and reapply it regularly.”

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