Skin cancer cases at an all-time high in UK, charity says

Almost 21,000 people are expected to be diagnosed in the UK this year with 90% of cases caused by too much UV radiation exposure

Cases of melanoma skin cancer are at an all-time high in the UK, with almost 21,000 people expected to be diagnosed with condition.

Cancer Research UK analysis showcases that the rates of melanoma have spiked by almost a third over the past decade, from 21 to 28 per 100,000 people between 2007-09 and 2017-19.

Among those aged over 80, there was a 57% rise, while among those aged 25 to 49 there was a 7% increase.

The charity said around 17,000 melanoma cases every year are preventable, with almost nine in 10 caused by too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

UV from the sun can damage DNA in skin cells and cause skin cancer.

What are the symptoms and causes of melanoma?

  • A new mole or a change in an existing mole may be signs of melanoma.

  • Melanomas can appear anywhere on your body, but they're more common in areas that are often exposed to the sun.

  • Some rarer types can affect the eyes, soles of the feet, palms of the hands or genitals.

  • Check your skin for any unusual changes. Use a mirror or ask a partner or friend to check any areas you cannot see.

Ultraviolet (UV) light is the most common cause of melanoma. It comes from the sun and is used in sunbeds.

Melanoma is more common in older people, but younger people can also get it.

The charity advises people spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm; cover up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat, UV-protection sunglasses and a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and 4 or 5 stars, applied often.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: “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. Spotting cancer early can make all the difference.”

According to the charity, younger people are more aware of the link between the sun and skin cancer than those who are older, who may have taken advantage of the “cheap package holiday boom” from the 1960s onwards.

Other factors driving up cases include a growing and ageing population and improved awareness of the symptoms of skin cancer.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...

Figures show, however, that more people are surviving melanoma, with deaths expected to continue to fall.

Almost nine in 10 adults diagnosed with melanoma in England will now survive their disease for a decade or more.

Dr Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple the risk of developing skin cancer, compared to never being burnt.

“Whether you are enjoying the good weather abroad or here at home, it’s important to protect yourself from too much sun, especially if you burn easily.

”Remember that sunburn doesn’t only happen when it’s hot – it can happen on cooler or cloudier days too.

“The best way to protect your skin when the sun is strong is to use shade, clothing and sunscreen together.

“Seek shade in the middle of the day, cover up with a shirt that covers your shoulders, a hat and sunglasses and wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and 4 or 5 stars. Make sure you put plenty on and reapply it regularly.”

Last month, experts told how the world’s first personalised mRNA cancer jab for melanoma – which also has the potential to stop lung, bladder and kidney cancer – is being tested in British patients.

The “gamechanger” jab, which offers hope of a cure, is custom-built for each person in just a few weeks.

A stage 2 trial of the jab, involving pharma firms Moderna and MSD, found it dramatically reduced the risk of the cancer returning in melanoma patients.

A final phase 3 trial is now running, led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH).