Cheap flights blamed as skin cancer rates soar by 45 per cent in a decade

Alex Matthews-King

Rates of melanoma skin cancers have soared by 45 per cent in the past decade as cheap international flights have fuelled a new generation of sun chasers, charities have warned.

Melanomas are rarer but more serious than non-melanoma skin cancers and rates have risen most steeply among men and the under-50s, a Cancer Research UK analysis found.

In a warning to holidaymakers, who are now able to jet off to warmer climes several times a year, the charity said skin damage in your earlier years can permanently increase your cancer risk.

Melanoma begins in pigment-producing melanocyte cells and is the UK’s fifth most common cancer, with 16,000 people diagnosed annually.

However, it is the second most common in people aged 25 to 49 and experts warn as many as 90 per cent of cases could be prevented with simple sun protection.

Cancer Research UK has launched a campaign to encourage people to embrace their natural skin tone and warn of the perils of chasing the perfect tan.

“While some might think that a tan is a sign of good health, there is no such thing as a healthy tan,” Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the charity, said. “It’s actually your body trying to protect itself from harmful rays.

“These statistics highlight the importance of our Own Your Tone campaign, which encourages people to embrace their natural skin tone and adopt sun-safe behaviours.”

Between 2004/06 and 2014/16, the most recent data available, melanoma rates have risen by 55 per cent in men and 35 per cent in women.

Across all cases, the rise was from 18 cases per 100,000 people in the population to 26 per 100,000.

While melanoma is still more common in those aged over 65, rates for 25- to 49-year-olds have increased by 70 per cent since the 1990s.

The jump has been from nine cases per 100,000 people in 1993/1995 to 16 per 100,000 in 2014/2016.

According to Cancer Research UK, the rise of package holidays in the 1970s and a more recent surge in cheap flights has seen more people going abroad, sometimes several times a year, putting their skin at risk from strong sun.

Improved awareness of the disease, has also been a factor with more people seeking a diagnosis for suspect moles and blemishes.

Getting sunburnt just once every two years triples the risk of melanoma.

Karis Betts, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Sun safety is not just for when you’re going abroad, the sun can be strong enough to burn in the UK from the start of April to the end of September.

“We want to encourage people to embrace their natural look and protect their skin from UV damage by seeking shade, covering up and regularly applying sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and four or five stars.”

Susannah Brown, head of research interpretation at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “These figures are shocking, but a positive message to take out of this research is that skin cancer is preventable.

“Our own research has shown that unlike many other cancers, diet and exercise patterns do not appear to be strongly associated with your risk of skin cancer and that it is the sun that continues to be the main cause.”