Cancer Research UK has released the news that for the first time in the UK, more than 10,000 people aged 55 and over were diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer – in a single year.
To put that into context, 20 years ago the tally was 3,100 cases in a year, that’s an 155% increase in the period, compared to a 63% increase in people aged under 55.
Experts are linking the increase in older people with the boom in cheap sunshine package holidays in the sixties and seventies.
Sadly, the number of people dying from the disease is also increasing. For the first time around 2,000 aged 55 and over die from melanoma in 2014 in the UK. On a more positive note, 90 % of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma in England and Wales will survive their disease for at least 10 years compared to seven in 10 in the early nineties.
Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of developing malignant melanoma. Sunburn isn’t only raw or blistered skin, any pink- or reddening of the skin is a sign of damage.
Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK’s head of statistics, said: “Getting sunburnt doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely develop melanoma but it does increase your chances of developing the disease. It’s worrying to see that malignant melanoma rates are continuing to rise and it’s very important that people take care of their skin in strong sun, even if they’ve been sunburnt in the past.”
Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, said: “We all need some sun for vitamin D, but enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn can reduce your risk of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. The best way to protect skin when the sun is strong is to spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, and to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses.
The NHS Choices website has an excellent section on preventing damage from the sun. Here are just a few of their key points:
Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest. In the UK, this is between 11am and 3pm from March to October. Make sure you:
- spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
- make sure you never burn
- cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses
- take extra care with children
- use at least factor 15 sunscreen
What factor sunscreen (SPF) should I use?
Don’t rely on sunscreen alone to protect yourself from the sun. Wear suitable clothing and spend time in the shade when the sun’s at its hottest. When buying sunscreen, the label should have:
- the letters “UVA” in a circle logo and at least four-star UVA protection
- a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to protect against UVB
- Make sure the sunscreen is not past its expiry date. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years.
- Don’t spend any longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen.