The number of men and women in their 50s suffering from the most dangerous type of skin cancer has quadrupled in the last three decades, figures suggest.

In 1981 there were about 480 50 to 59-year-olds diagnosed with malignant melanoma in Britain and the figure soared to almost 1,950 a year by 2010, Cancer Research UK said.

People's idea of what skin cancer looks like is limited to three or four images that are widely used to promote awareness of the disease - but we don't think this goes far enough with helping people identify the problem. It's a bit like bird spotting - using pictures as a guide to what malignant melanoma could look like and helping people make a better decision about seeing their doctor.

The charity is working with supermarket chain Tesco to raise awareness about the importance of early diagnosis.

The store is providing leaflets about cancer and is aiming to raise £10 million this year to fund 32 early diagnosis research projects across the UK.

  • Melanoma is a cancer that usually starts in the skin, either in a mole or in normal-looking skin. About half of all melanomas start in normal-looking skin.

  • The number of people developing melanoma is continuing to rise. More than 10,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma each year.

  • Melanoma is more common in women, particularly young women. In the UK it’s the most common cancer in people aged 15–34.

  • In women the most common place to develop melanoma is on the legs; in men it’s on the chest and the back.

Almost five people a day are diagnosed with the melanoma in Britain - which can prove fatal if diagnosed at a late stage.

Figures show that the number of cases of malignant melanoma across all age groups are on the rise.

In 2010, 12,800 people in the UK were diagnosed with the disease compared with 12,100 in 2009.

Risk factors and causes of melanoma

  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun - People who experience episodes of sunburn, especially where the skin blisters, are more at risk. It’s important for everyone to be aware of the damage that too much exposure to the sun can cause.

  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunbeds - Sunbeds give off artificial UV rays that damage the DNA and increase the risk of developing melanoma. The more you use a sunbed or lamp, and the earlier in life you begin using them, the greater your risk.

Other factors that can increase your risk of melanoma

  • Your skin type.

  • Sunburn.

  • Having lots of moles and unusual moles.

  • Family history of melanoma.

  • Reduced immunity.

Click here for more information about melanoma.