Skin cancer deaths up 150% since the 1970s

·5-min read
young woman on beach with suntan lotion
Around 16,200 people are diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, every year in the UK. (Getty Images)

Skin cancer deaths in the UK have surged by 150% since the 1970s, figures have revealed.

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has released data showing melanoma – the most dangerous form of the disease – fatalities have more than doubled in the past five decades.

Men have been hardest hit, with death rates over three times higher among male patients than in the 1970s.

Many of these fatalities could have been prevented, with more than four in five cases (86%) linked to excessive sun exposure or the use of sun beds.

While it may sound alarming, over nine in 10 (91%) melanoma cases are diagnosed at an early stage in England, with 91% surviving at least another five years.

Read more: Two in five Britons soaking up more UV rays during lockdown

‘You can get burnt in the UK sun’

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, two in five Britons are said to be spending more time outdoors as international travel becomes increasingly fraught with difficulties.

Experts have stressed beachside staycations can also cause UV damage, previously saying “the sun isn’t only strong abroad”.

About 16,200 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year in the UK, making it the fifth most common form of the disease.

Read more: How to know it’s time to put on sunscreen

“There are many benefits to going outside, felt now more than ever because of sustained periods of lockdown,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of CRUK.

“But something we should all be aware of is sun safety and how to reduce our risk of melanoma.

“Even though many summer holidays on beaches abroad have come to a halt, you can still get burnt in the UK sun.

“With rates rising, it’s never been more important to stay safe in the sun and contact your GP if you notice any unusual change to your skin.”

Melanoma is around three times more common in people who have had sunburn just once every two years, according to CRUK.

Even reddening of the skin or tenderness is a sign of sun damage, it added.

Statistics have revealed men are most at risk of a melanoma death, possibly due to cases of the disease rising faster in males, who may also be more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.

One who knows the dangers of excessive sun exposure all too well is Shane McCormick.

The sales director was diagnosed with melanoma on the bottom of his back in April 2017.

“I used to be a landscape gardener,” he said.

“I worked outdoors most of the day, alongside my dad who was also in the industry, and we didn’t really think about covering up or using sunscreen.

“Awareness wasn’t like it is today. I used to be out there working with my top off.”

Read more: What a heatwave does to the body

After initially being told his treatment was a success, McCormick discovered the disease had developed into secondary melanoma – when it has spread to other parts of the body – in November 2018.

Shane McCormick was diagnosed with melanoma after working as a landscape gardener without adequate sun protection. (Cancer Research UK)

McCormick finished treatment in March and will have an annual scan for the next five years, the first of which came back clear.

“Everyone is talking about COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus], and it has been beautiful weather lately, but taking care of yourself in the sun is just as important as it’s ever been,” he said.

“For me this has been a big learning experience. Whilst I can’t change it, I can tell my story and stop others from experiencing what I’ve been through.”

How to stay safe in the sun

If you start to feel out of sorts, stop all activity and rest. Move to a cool place and sip cold water or a rehydration sports drink.

Lie down with your feet raised. If possible, cool the skin with a sponge or fan. Cold packs around the neck and armpits may also help.

Most people start to feel better with 30 minutes. If things do not improve after an hour, seek medical help immediately.

People should also call 999 if they are not sweating despite being hot, have a temperature of 40C (104F) or above, are confused, breathe quickly or appear short of breath, have a seizure, lose consciousness or become unresponsive.

The good news is the sun can be enjoyed safely, with dehydration and overheating both preventable.

While it may sound obvious, drink plenty of fluids. This will help your body produce sweat that cools you down.

Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when out and about. Loose-fitting clothing will further protect you from the sun without causing overheating.

Take it easy on a hot day, rest frequently in the shade if exercising, and allow yourself to adjust to the warm weather.

Try to also avoid being outdoors at the hottest time, typically between 11am and 3pm.

Remember to also never leave a child in a parked car on a warm day, even if the windows are open or it is in the shade.

Alcohol should also not be drunk excessively in the sun.