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Skin cancer: 8 in 10 now survive

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
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22nd July 2013 - More than 8 out of 10 people diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, will now survive the disease, compared to only around 5 in 10 in the early 70s, according to a new report by Cancer Research UK.

Nearly 13,000 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed each year in the UK, that’s around 35 people every day.

Trends over time

Forty years ago 10 year survival rates for malignant melanoma were 38% for men and 58% for women. Today it has reached 80% in men and 90% in women.

Professor Richard Marais, director of the Cancer Research UK Paterson Institute for Cancer Research based at the University of Manchester, says in a press release: "Forty years ago, only around half of those diagnosed with skin cancer were surviving, so 8 out of 10 is a massive improvement. More and more people are beating skin cancer but we can’t stop there and we need to develop better treatments for the 2 out of 10 where things don’t look so good.

"Obviously we’ve come a long way in the fight against skin cancer and that’s largely down to the generosity of supporters who have funded research to help us to understand the disease better and find new ways of beating it. Research funded by Cancer Research UK has underpinned the development of new drugs. Although these drugs do not cure skin cancers, they can give patients with advanced melanoma valuable extra months and show the progress we are making."

Skin cancer awareness

Survival rates for malignant melanoma may have increased since the '70s but so too have the number of cases. Some of the increase may be due to increased surveillance and early detection as well as changes in diagnostic criteria, but most is considered to be real and linked to changes in sun related behaviour such as an increase in foreign holidays.

A study published in December 2011 estimated that around 86% of malignant melanomas in the UK in 2010 were linked to exposure to UV radiation from the sun and sunbeds.

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, says in a prepared statement: " Skin cancer is one of the fastest rising cancers in the UK, which is likely to be down to our sunbathing habits and the introduction of cheap package holidays in previous decades. But the earlier cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. That’s why it’s important to get to know your skin and if you notice anything unusual, such as a change to a mole or a blemish that still hasn’t healed after a few weeks, then get it checked out by your GP."

The main risk factor for malignant melanoma is UV radiation (from sun exposure and sunbeds). Skin type and hair and eye colour, sunscreen use, family history, previous cancer and other medical conditions also impact on skin cancer risk.

The improvements in survival are likely to be down to improvements in treatment, early diagnosis and awareness of the symptoms. Dr Kumar says: "Our research is revealing more about skin cancer: what causes it, how we can better prevent it and how we can develop targeted treatments to help more people beat the disease. By funding more research we can bring forward the day when even more people survive."

Reviewed on July 22, 2013

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