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Skin cancer cases reach all-time high

by Amy Warnock | News

27 May 2024

1 comment 1 comment

The sun shining in a blue sky
Shutterstock/Iakov Kalinin


With warm weather approaching, it’s time to start thinking about staying safe in the sun. 

And that’s just as important than ever, with new analysis showing that melanoma skin cancer rates have increased by almost a third over the past decade. 

In fact, researchers have projected a record high of 20,800 cases this year in the UK*.  

This rise may sound alarming, but it’s important to note that around 17,000 cases of melanoma each year are preventable. That’s because almost 9 in 10 cases in the UK are caused by exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and sunbeds.  

These figures highlight the importance of taking precautions to protect your skin from the sun and the dangers of sunbed use.  

What’s behind the rise?

This upward trend in melanoma cases is seen across all age groups, although researchers found that the biggest rise was in adults over the age of 80. This age group has seen an increase in incidence rates of 57% over the past decade.  

Rates are also rising for young adults between the ages of 25-49, with a 7% increase in incidence in the last ten years.  

It is likely that young people today are more aware of the link between UV and skin cancer risk than older generations. This could mean they are more likely to take precautions to stay safe in the sun.  

On the other hand, older groups might have known less about the dangers of tanning in their youth and may have taken advantage of the cheap package holiday boom from the 1960s, likely leading to increased sun exposure.  

But there are also other reasons behind this rise in skin cancer cases, such as the growing and ageing population. Improved awareness of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer likely means more people are visiting their doctor when they notice unusual skin changes, which has also contributed to record numbers of people being diagnosed in the UK.

 

Staying safe in the sun 

With summer approaching, more people are likely to head outside when the UV level is high. That’s why we’re joining NIVEA Sun in urging people to stay safe when enjoying the sun. 

We recommend three steps to protect your skin and reduce your cancer risk.  

  1. Spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK 
  2. Cover up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protection sunglasses 
  3. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and 4 or 5 stars generously and regularly 


Prevention is key
 

Despite increasing cases, the number of deaths from melanoma is projected to continue to fall. This is thanks to research and improvements in early diagnosis and treatment, which have resulted in melanoma survival doubling in the last 50 years.  

“Survival from cancers including melanoma continues to improve, demonstrating the substantial progress made possible by research. But it’s vital that people try to reduce their risk of getting the disease in the first place,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.  

Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple the risk of developing skin cancer, compared to never being burnt. So, whether you are enjoying the good weather at home or abroad, make sure to protect yourself from too much sun, especially if you burn easily. 

It is also important to remember that sunburn doesn’t only happen when it’s hot – it can happen on cooler or cloudy days too.  

Caroline’s story 

Caroline, now 57, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2018 after spotting a tiny mole-like blemish on her leg. 

After surgery, she is now living cancer free. 

Head shot of Caroline

“I was so scared when I first received the news. I feel really lucky that treatment was successful, but I know others who haven’t been as fortunate as me,” she said. 

“I’ve never been a sunbather, but I have burnt my skin on holiday in the past. Now, I’m so much more careful. I hope my story will encourage people to think about their habits and take care when they’re enjoying the sun.  

“It’s really sad to hear that the numbers of people getting melanoma are still going up, especially when so many cases are preventable. If you see any unusual changes to your skin, make sure to see your GP. It could make all the difference!” 


Staying aware
 

If you notice any unusual changes to your skin – whether that’s a new or changing mole, a sore that doesn’t heal, or an area of your skin that looks out of the ordinary, make sure to contact your GP. 

You can find out more about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer on our About Cancer pages 

*Projections calculated by the Cancer Intelligence team at Cancer Research UK, February 2023. Data available here

    Comments

  • Kit Byatt
    27 May 2024

    Please provide a link to cited research (as here in para 3). It’s infuriating not to be able to go directly to the source data—so easy to implement with hyperlinks, or at least footnotes. I’m a doctor, but I can’t be the only person wanting to check the methodology, confidence intervals of the point estimate, and external validity of results, and so on.
    It’s just good practice!

  • reply
    Jacob Smith
    30 May 2024

    Hi Kit,

    Thanks for your comment. You can find the projections data here and information on the methodology here. I’ve also added a footnote including a link to the data.

    I hope that helps,
    Jacob, Cancer Research UK

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    Comments

  • Kit Byatt
    27 May 2024

    Please provide a link to cited research (as here in para 3). It’s infuriating not to be able to go directly to the source data—so easy to implement with hyperlinks, or at least footnotes. I’m a doctor, but I can’t be the only person wanting to check the methodology, confidence intervals of the point estimate, and external validity of results, and so on.
    It’s just good practice!

  • reply
    Jacob Smith
    30 May 2024

    Hi Kit,

    Thanks for your comment. You can find the projections data here and information on the methodology here. I’ve also added a footnote including a link to the data.

    I hope that helps,
    Jacob, Cancer Research UK

Tell us what you think

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read our comment policy.