Melanoma skin cancer cases rising in UK

Lady in sunhat shielding from sun
[Getty Images]

A cancer charity is warning people to do more to protect themselves from the sun as the number of melanoma skin-cancer cases in the UK continues to rise.

Cancer Research UK predicts there will be a record 20,800 cases diagnosed this year – up from a yearly average of 19,300 between 2020 and 2022.

Its analysis shows rates rose by almost a third between 2009 and 2019 - from 21 to 28 cases per 100,000 people.

The rise in diagnoses is due partly to a growing ageing population and an increase in awareness of the signs of skin cancer.

The report suggests around 17,000 melanoma cases every year are preventable - with almost nine in 10 caused by too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Melanomas are a serious type of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of the body.

There are also non-melanoma skin cancers, which are generally more common and usually less serious than melanoma.

According to Cancer Research (CRUK) the rise in cases has covered all age groups but the biggest increases are in the older age groups - particularly in adults over 80, where diagnoses have risen from 61 to 96 cases per 100,000 people over a decade.

There has also been a rise among adults aged between 25 and 49, according to the charity's analysis.

For this group the rate has gone up from 14 to 15 per 100,000 people over 10 years.

Young people are more likely to be aware of the link between UV and skin cancer than older generations, scientists suggest.

This could mean they’re more likely to take precautions in the sun, compared with older people, who grew up when less was known about the dangers of tanning.

Many people also took advantage of the cheap package-holiday boom, which began in the 1960s, researchers say.

"I was never a sun-bather but I did burn"

Black and white photo of Caroline Jones who had a melanoma diagnosis six years ago
[Caroline Jones ]

Caroline Jones, 57, from Shrewsbury, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2018 after spotting a tiny blemish on her leg.

She told the BBC: "It was tiny and shiny with a black bit in the middle. It just didn't look right.

"The scary thing is if it was on my back I probably wouldn't have seen it. But because I saw it and went quickly to the doctor, I'm still here today."

Caroline's melanoma was caught early, and after surgery to remove it, she is now cancer-free.

"I’ve never been a sun-bather but each of the times I’ve been abroad I have burnt quite badly.

"That's probably five times of falling asleep in the sun for a few hours," she said.

"I hope my story will encourage people to think about their habits and take care when they’re enjoying the sun."

CRUK's chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, says survival from cancers including melanoma continues to improve, "demonstrating the substantial progress made possible by research".

But it is vital that people try to reduce their risk of getting the disease in the first place, she adds.

“Make sure to take care in the sun and contact your GP if you notice any unusual changes to your skin - whether a new or changing mole, a sore that doesn’t heal, or an area of your skin that looks out of the ordinary.

"Spotting cancer early can make all the difference.”

Almost nine in 10 adults diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in England will survive their disease for 10 years or more.

Sun safety tips:

  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm

  • Never burn

  • Cover up with suitable clothing (including a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved top) and sunglasses

  • Take extra care with children

  • Use at least factor-30 sunscreen regularly

Source: NHS

Cancer Research UK