County news: Skin cancer a bigger danger than ever for over 55s

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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.

This compares with around 3,100 cases diagnosed in the UK 20 years ago.

New statistics released by Cancer Research UK show that melanoma is a growing problem for people in the 55+ age group.

A statement from Cancer Research UK said: “The South East has contributed to this landmark figure with around 1,660 people aged 55 and over diagnosed with malignant melanoma every year, while the total number diagnosed across all age groups in the region is 2,400.

“Rates of melanoma in people aged 55 and over have more than doubled (155 per cent) in the last 20 years. Rates in the UK for under 55s are also rising but at a much slower rate of 63 per cent during the same time.

“A growing UK population with people living longer means the numbers of people being diagnosed with melanoma continue to climb. The increase in over 55s being diagnosed is likely to be linked to the prevalence of the cheap package holiday boom dating from the 1960s, and the desire to have tanned skin even at the expense of sunburn.

“Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK.

“The number of people dying from the disease is also increasing. For the first time around 2,000 people aged 55 and over died from malignant melanoma in 2014 in the UK.

“Despite the increase in diagnosis and deaths, the number of people surviving their disease is also increasing. Today nine in 10 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 1990s.”

Emily Attwood, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the South East, said: “One of the reasons for the rise in melanoma rates is likely related to the ‘sun, sea and sangria’ generation who benefitted from cheap package holidays from the 1960s onwards.

“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.”

“We all need some sun for vitamin D, but enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn can reduce your risk of malignant melanoma. 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.

“Sunscreen can help protect the parts you can’t cover – use one with at least SPF 15 and 4 or more stars, put plenty on and reapply it regularly. But it’s best not to rely on sunscreen alone – use a combination of things to help protect your skin whenever possible.”

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