The charity is revealing the latest statistics for malignant melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – which show that around 6000 people a year are now diagnosed with the disease. The rise is almost entirely due to the increasing rates in men.
These figures are announced on the day Cancer Research UK launches its SunSmart 2002 campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of the sun and the importance of taking precautions against sunburn.
Traditionally women have had higher rates of malignant melanoma, probably because of the fashion for suntans. But over the last few years, Cancer Research UK believes that while women are starting to heed sun warnings, and are increasingly protecting both themselves and their children, men are failing to cover up against harmful UV rays.
This is beginning to be reflected in the statistics, with the gap between men’s and women’s rates of melanoma now narrower than it has been at any point in the last twenty five years.
Over the six years to 1998 the increase for men was 12 per cent and for women just 2.1 per cent1.
Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information at Cancer Research UK, says: “Since the 1970s, malignant melanoma has seen the fastest increase in incidence of the major cancers and that trend looks set to remain if people continue to ignore sun protection warnings.
“It’s disappointing to find that trends for men are following the same worrying pattern we were recording in women a decade ago.
She adds: “The pattern of incidence is changing and we will be looking at devising campaigns tailored specifically for men. Firstly, we must find out what their views are on sun protection in order to guide us to target information in the most effective way.”
SunSmart lays out the following guidelines for everyone to follow:
- avoid the sun at its height (usually 11am-3pm)
- take care never to burn
- use shade wherever possible: trees, umbrellas, shade
- take extra special care of babies’ and children’s delicate skin
- wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection
- cover up with tightly woven, loose fitting clothes: long sleeves, trousers, skirts
- always use a broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) with UVA protection, even if you have a tan
- avoid using sunbeds or tanning lamps
- check your skin regularly and report any unusual changes without any delay
Malignant melanoma claims the lives of over 1,600 people in the UK each year, yet it is believed that four out of five cases are preventable with up to 80 per cent caused by exposure to the sun.
Dr Charlotte Proby, a dermatologist at Cancer Research UK, says: “More research is needed to fully understand all the factors involved in this disease but one thing we can be sure of is the strong link between sun exposure and skin cancer.”
The charity also advises you see your doctor immediately if:
- an existing mole or dark patch is getting larger or a new one is growing
- a mole has a ragged outline
- a mole has a mixture of different shades of brown and black
The following signs do not necessarily mean you have melanoma but you should still check them out. If your mole or dark patch does not return to normal within two weeks, don’t ignore it and see your doctor if you have:
- an inflamed mole or one with a reddish edge
- a mole that starts to bleed, ooze or crust
- a change in sensation of a mole, like a mild itch
- a mole that is bigger than all your other moles
Tesco are supporting the SunSmart 2002 campaign this summer and they can also reveal that 68 per cent of sun cream bought in their stores is purchased by women. Tesco is concerned by its customers’ sun protection habits and is joining up with Cancer Research UK to take sun awareness messages directly to its customers during the summer months.
- These figures relate to 1998, the latest incidence statistics available. Percentage increases were calculated from age standardised rates. In 1998 there were around 3,500 cases in women annually and around 2,500 in men.