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Melanoma deaths in men soar

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by Cancer Research UK | News

15 May 2006

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For the first time the number of men who have died from melanoma in the UK has exceeded 1000 a year – a 31 per cent increase in the last decade.

More men than women die from this potentially fatal form of skin cancer. And one of the reasons for this is because men fail to check out suspect moles – according to Cancer Research UK.

A new survey* of almost 2000 men found that almost 60 per cent never check their backs – where skin cancer often occurs – to see if existing moles have changed or if new ones have appeared.

And the under 24s and over 65s were the worst culprits as they were the least likely to visit a doctor if they noticed any mole changes.

According to the survey – which launches Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign in Sun Awareness week – almost 70 per cent of men don’t think they are at risk of skin cancer even though one third of those men admit to having been sunburnt. Overall more than 30 per cent would not go to the doctor if they noticed any changes in their moles.

Although fewer men than women are diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the potentially fatal form of skin cancer – more men actually die from it. And research suggests this is largely due to the cancer not being diagnosed until a more advanced stage.

Dr Catherine Harwood, consultant dermatologist for Cancer Research UK, urged men to be aware of mole changes and act promptly.

“The thickness of a melanoma, at diagnosis, is very important in determining the outcome of the cancer,” she said. “Men seem to be generally less aware of mole changes than women and as a result they often present when the melanoma is already quite thick. Detecting a melanoma in its early stages means earlier treatment with a much better chance of survival.”

Latest figures show that 1,777 people die from melanoma each year and 1,002 of these are men. Research by Prof Rona MacKie in Scotland has found that almost 30 per cent of melanoma cases in men over 65 were diagnosed when their moles were in the highest thickness category. In men of all ages 20 per cent presented in this category while in women overall the figure was 16 per cent.

Former Celtic footballer Tommy Burns, 49, was diagnosed last year with melanoma after he noticed one of the moles on his inner thigh – that had been there since childhood – had begun to get darker and turn crusty. “I think men are careless about their bodies, he said. “If they notice anything a little out of the ordinary they tend to brush it to one side. But after my experience I would urge anyone who notices the smallest skin change to get it checked.”

The rate of melanoma in men is rising faster than for any other cancer except prostate. Over the last 10 years melanoma rates in men have increased by 42 per cent as against 48 per cent for prostate cancer.

Prof MacKie, from Glasgow University, said: “In men melanoma often occurs on the back and this may well be an additional reason why they present late. It is important for men to look in the mirror so that they can spot any new moles or changes in existing ones. And getting partners to check their backs is a good idea as well.”

This year’s SunSmart Campaign is targeting men in an effort to raise awareness of skin cancer and the importance of reporting any skin changes to a doctor. It is also focussing on outdoor workers who are likely to have more sun exposure than people who work in an office.

Sara Hiom, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “People who work outside and whose faces, arms and legs are constantly exposed to sun are more likely to be diagnosed with non melanoma skin cancer. This is far more common and less dangerous than melanoma but it is important to have it treated as soon as possible.

“We are providing practical information about the changes that people need to look out for when checking their skin. Skin cancer can grow from a mole, freckle or a normal patch of skin. If people notice any changes in size, shape or colour, that happen over weeks or months, they should see their doctor without delay. ”

Campaign posters and leaflets about detecting skin cancer are being distributed to the construction and agricultural industries, unions and all UK health professionals. The SunSmart Campaign urges people – especially the fair-skinned – to check their skin regularly for changes using the ABCD rule.

The ABCD rule:

  • Asymmetry: The two halves of a melanoma may not look the same.
  • Border: Edges of a melanoma may be irregular, blurred or jagged.
  • Colour: The colour of a melanoma may be uneven, with more than one shade.
  • Diameter: Many melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter, the size of a pencil eraser.

Other signs of skin cancer:

  • a new growth or sore that won’t heal
  • a spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts
  • a mole or growth that bleeds, crusts or scabs

Any changes in a mole, freckle or patch of normal skin that occur quickly over weeks or months should be taken seriously and a doctor consulted without delay.


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