Sharp rise in skin cancer cases

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 have suggested.

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, said Cancer Research UK.

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

Figures show that the number of cases of malignant melanoma across all age groups is on the rise. In 2010, 12,800 people in the UK were diagnosed with the disease compared with 12,100 in 2009.

A Cancer Research UK spokeswoman said 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.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, who are finding new ways to help people recognise the signs of skin cancer earlier, are one group which will benefit from the funding. The team wants to see if using web-based images could be more successful at helping people recognise skin abnormalities.

Team leader Professor Jonathan Rees said: "It's worrying that melanoma rates are on the rise. But, if caught early, melanoma can be treated very successfully so if we can develop a better system of encouraging people to go to the doctor, this could potentially save a great deal of lives."

Sara Hiom, director of information at the charity, added: "We know that cancer survival in the UK lags behind the best in Europe and this is likely because of a combination of many factors including late diagnosis. Melanoma is a largely preventable disease. People can reduce their chance of developing skin cancer in the first place if they protect their skin from sunburn. But it's also important that people are aware of the warning signs for malignant melanoma.

"Look out for changes in size, shape or colour of a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin - these should be reported to a GP without delay. In particular look for moles or freckles that are asymmetrical, with uneven colours or borders, larger than a pencil top eraser, are itchy or bleed. The chances are this won't turn out to be cancer, but if it is, spotting it early could make a real difference to the outcome."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Over-exposure to the sun is one of the main risk factors for this type of cancer. It's really important to be sun safe - use a high factor sunscreen, cover up and spend the hottest times of the day in the shade. We recently launched a new skin cancer campaign called 'flag it', encouraging young people to look after each other when enjoying the sun."