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Stark increase in deadly skin cancer

PUBLISHED: 01:01 01 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:15 30 June 2010

PEOPLE in their 60s and 70s are now over five times more likely to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma - the deadliest type of skin cancer - than their parents would have been 30 years ago, reveal new Cancer Research UK statistics* to launch the 2010 SunSmart campaign today.

PEOPLE in their 60s and 70s are now over five times more likely to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma - the deadliest type of skin cancer - than their parents would have been 30 years ago, reveal new Cancer Research UK statistics* to launch the 2010 SunSmart campaign today.

Of all ages, this generation has seen the biggest increase in incidence rates of melanoma, rising from seven cases per 100,000 people in the mid 1970s** to 36 cases per 100,000 today***.

In the East of England 363 people in their 60s and 70s are diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year. This represents over a third (40 per cent) of all cases in the region, where overall 906 people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year.

The stark rise shows the impact that a shift in tanning behaviour has had on a whole generation of men and women who would have been in their 20s and 30s during the dawn of cheap package holidays in the 1970s - when sunburn before suntan was a common ritual -and sunbeds arrived in the UK****.

For men in their 60s and 70s the rates of melanoma have risen most dramatically - they are now over seven times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than in the 1970s.

Cancer Research UK hopes that young people in the Eastern region will see the impact tanning has had on their grand-parents generation and think twice about their own behaviour, as sunbathing and using sunbeds now could increase their risk of skin cancer in the future.

Sue Deans a 64 year old grandmother from Dorset, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma after discovering a lump in her lymph nodes. She'd had a mole removed a few years earlier but was shocked to be diagnosed with skin cancer. She had an operation to remove the tumour.

“I was famous for getting brown,” she said. “When I was younger having a tan was seen to be very attractive and I would spend hours in the sun without any protection. My skin would burn and peel and I would pick it off after it had blistered. And then when I was in my early 20s I began going abroad on holiday and would spend most of my time sunbathing.

“If only we'd known at the time how dangerous getting burnt was and the effect it would have 30 to 40 years later. But we just weren't aware of the risks and how important it was to be safe in the sun and not get burnt.”

The worrying rise in incidence rates is expected to continue. By 2024 rates in people aged 60-79 are predicted to increase by a third from where they are today*****.

For men and women of all ages melanoma incidence rates have quadrupled since the 1970s.

Caroline Cerny, SunSmart manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “A change in the culture of tanning including the explosion of cheap package holidays and the introduction of sunbeds in the seventies means we're now seeing alarming rates of melanoma for an entire age group.

“The battle against melanoma is far from won. Today the problem threatens to get worse as teenagers continue to crave a tan on the beach and top it up cheaply on sunbeds. Already skin cancer is predicted to become the fourth most common cancer for men and for women in the UK by 2024. We must continue to try and stop this pattern of behaviour or melanoma rates in future generations will hit an all time high.

“Melanoma is largely preventable. Burning is not only painful and unsightly; it's a clear sign that UV rays from the sun have damaged the DNA in your skin cells. This significantly increases the chance of developing skin cancer and makes skin look older. People with fair skin, freckles and lots of moles should take extra care in the sun. But everyone should avoid the temptation to redden or burn in order to get a tan.”

There has also been a large increase in the overall death rates. Over a similar period they have more than doubled from 1.2 per 100,000 in 1971 to 2.6 per 100,000 in the UK in 2007.

If melanoma death rates had stayed the same as they were in 1973, around 19,000 fewer people would have died from melanoma******.

The SunSmart campaign is funded by the UK health departments.

For more information visit: www.sunsmart.org.uk

*http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/types/skin/incidence/index.htm (will go live at 00.01 Thursday 1 April, 2010)

**1975-1977 in Great Britain

***2004-2006 in Great Britain

**** Lazovich, A., & Forster, J. (2005). Indoor tanning by adolescents: Prevalence, practices and polices. European Journal of Cancer, 41(1), 20-27.

*****These projections are based on previous trends in cancer incidence since 1975 and produced using statistical models detailed in http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/projections/methodology/index.htm

****** The mortality rate for melanoma in the UK in 1973 was applied to the populations in the years 1973-2007. The total difference between the deaths that would have occurred in the period 1973-2007 calculated using the 1973 mortality rate was subtracted from the actual number of deaths that occurred in those years. This gives the number of additional deaths that have occurred due to the increases in mortality rate from 1973-2007.

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