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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

Skin cancer rising in over 55s

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
senior woman thinking

1st July 2016 - The highest number of people aged 55 and over have been diagnosed with the most dangerous form of skin cancer in a single year, according to new figures.

Cancer Research UK has been analysing data from 2014 and found 10,583 people aged 55 and over were diagnosed with malignant melanoma.

That compares with around 3,100 cases 20 years ago.

There were also around 2,000 melanoma deaths in this age group - the highest recorded number.

Why are melanoma cases rising?

Melanoma is the UK's fifth most common cancer type.

Although melanoma rates are also rising in under 55s, the increase appears to be slower.

Cancer Research UK experts believe the rise is due to over 55s coming from the 'sun, sea and sangria’ generation who began to take cheap package holidays to sunny destinations from the 1960s. In those days, tans were seen to be desirable - and knowledge of skin cancer risks and how to avoid them was less widespread.

The UK's population as a whole is also changing - with people living longer - and having more years in which they may be diagnosed with conditions like skin cancer.

Better survival

Although skin cancer cases and deaths are increasing, better detection and treatments means people are living longer after a melanoma diagnosis.

Nine out of 10 people in England and Wales diagnosed with malignant melanoma now survive the disease for at least 10 years. That compares to 7 out of 10 in the early 90s.

Protect yourself

In a statement, Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK’s head of statistics, says: "Getting sunburnt doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely develop melanoma but it does increase your chances of developing the disease. It’s worrying to see that malignant melanoma rates are continuing to rise and it’s very important that people take care of their skin in strong sun, even if they’ve been sunburnt in the past."

Dr Julie Sharp, the charity's head of health and patient information, adds: "We all need some sun for vitamin D, but enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn can reduce your risk of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. The best way to protect skin when the sun is strong is to spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, and to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses."

Sunscreen is sold with an SPF rating on the label that indicates the level of protection from UVB rays. This does not include protection from harmful UVA rays which are typically indicated by a separate 'star' rating system.

Dr Sharp says: " Sunscreen can help protect the parts you can’t cover - use one with at least SPF 15 and 4 or more stars, put plenty on and reapply it regularly. But it’s best not to rely on sunscreen alone - use a combination of things to help protect your skin whenever possible. And never use sunscreen to stay in the sun for longer."

Reviewed on/2, 16 1

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