Warning as skin cancer rates soar among young people

The use of sunbeds and lack of care on summer holidays have seen levels of skin cancer soar among young people, with more than two Britons under 35 being diagnosed every day, new research suggests.

Rates of malignant melanoma have tripled among those aged 15 to 34 since the late 1970s, according to analysis by Cancer Research UK.

Then, there were 1.8 cases of melanoma per 100,000 people in this age group, rising to 5.9 now.

It is thought sunbeds are playing a role in boosting cancer rates among young people, as well as failing to use sufficient protection against the sun's strong rays while on holiday abroad.

Launching its annual SunSmart campaign, which promotes the use of suntan lotion and covering up in midday sun, the charity said more than 900 young Britons are newly-diagnosed with the disease each year.

It also warned that older people are at risk, with skin cancer rates rising among all age groups.

In 2007, there were 10,800 new cases among all ages, jumping to 11,700 cases in 2008 - an 8.5% rise.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: "While some sunshine is good for us, going red and burning can be dangerous.

"The most important thing people can do to reduce their chances of developing skin cancer is to make sure they don't get red or burn.

"And the best way to do that is to get to know your skin and how long you can safely stay in the sun, and also avoid sunbeds.

"Sunburn means that UV rays have penetrated the skin cells, causing damage which builds up over time and increases the risk of skin cancer.

"The explosion in melanoma rates we are seeing now reflects people's tanning behaviour in the past and the desire to sport a suntan - a trend which began in the 70s with the dawn of cheap package holidays.

"All too often, holidaymakers thought getting sunburnt was part of the process of getting a tan."

Caroline Cerny, Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign manager, said: "It's very worrying to see that the number of young adults being diagnosed with this potentially fatal disease has risen so dramatically, especially since cancer is typically a disease that affects older people.

"With summer approaching after such a harsh winter, everyone is looking forward to enjoying some sunshine.

"But it's more important than ever to be aware of the dangers of getting sunburnt.

"Nor are sunbeds a safe alternative to tanning. In fact, using a sunbed before the age of 35 can increase your risk of melanoma by 75%.

"Young women in particular need to take care since they are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than young men.

"The good news is that the majority of cases could be prevented by making sure you don't get sunburnt."

Symptoms of melanoma include moles getting bigger, changing shape or colour (such as becoming darker or patchy), itching or painful moles, and ones that look inflamed, bleed or become crusty.

Nina Goad, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said better early diagnosis may be behind some of today's figures.

"The fact that skin cancer rates are increasing to such an extent in such a young age group shows that the disease is not just a consequence of lack of sun safety knowledge in previous decades," she said.

"It is our current behaviour that needs to be addressed. Four out of five cases of the disease are preventable, which shows why preventing sunburn is so important.

"Likewise, early detection is crucial - it is the one cancer which you can see very clearly on the outside of the body, and which can also be cured if detected early enough and removed promptly.

"Earlier detection and increased awareness of symptoms may have led to some cases being detected in younger age groups, which is why people need to learn both how to spot signs of the disease, and how to prevent it in the first place."

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