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Melanoma rates rising since the 70s

The rates of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma are five times higher than in the 1970s, although survival from the disease has increased markedly.

Tim Locke, WebMD, Apr 22, 2014

Malignant melanoma is a skin cancer that usually starts in the skin, either in a mole or in normal-looking skin. About half of all melanomas start in normal-looking skin. In the UK it’s the most common cancer in people aged 15-34.

Experts say the popularity of 'must-have' tans, package holidays abroad and sunbeds are among reasons for the increase.

Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and leads to more than 2,000 deaths a year.

Precancerous skin lesions and skin cancer slideshow

Skin cancer diagnoses

There were 13,052 malignant melanoma cases in Great Britain in 2011 compared with 1,757 cases in 1975.

As well as sunburn and the desire to get a tan, better skin cancer detection methods could also have added to the statistics.

The rise in diagnoses was twice as high among men than women, although it remains slightly more common in women.

In a statement, Nick Ormiston-Smith, head of statistics at Cancer Research UK says: "Holidays in hot climates have become more affordable and sunbeds are more widely available since the 1970s. But we know overexposure to UV rays from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer. This means, in many cases, the disease can be prevented, and is why it’s essential to get into good sun safety habits, whether at home or abroad.

"The good news for those that are diagnosed, is that survival for the disease is amongst the highest for any cancer, more than 8 in 10 people will now survive it."

Preventing skin cancer

Avoiding sunburn is a key way to help prevent skin cancer. Covering-up, staying in the shade and using sun protection of at least SPF15 is especially important for people with the highest risk of skin cancer. This includes people with pale skin, numerous moles or freckles, a history of sunburn or a family history of melanoma.

Caroline Cerny, senior health campaigns manager at Cancer Research UK adds: "Everyone loves getting out and about and enjoying the summer sun. It’s essential to take care not to burn - sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer. When the sun is strong, pop on a t-shirt, spend some time in the shade and use a sunscreen with at least SPF15 and good UVA protection."

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