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Malignant melanoma diagnoses surpass 10,000 in one year for over-55s

More than 10,000 people aged 55 and over were diagnosed with malignant melanoma in one year, according to Cancer Research UK.

This 2014 figure shows a 155% increase over the last 20 years from 1994 when only 3,100 cases of the cancer were diagnosed in the UK.

Prevalence rates of this cancer are also rising for under 55s but more slowly at 63% over the same time frame.

Malignant melanoma is considered to be the most dangerous form of skin cancer and it is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK.

Cancer Research UK said the increase in over 55s being diagnosed is likely to be linked to the “sun, sea and sangria” generation with the desire to have tanned skin at the expense of sunburn.

For all age groups around 15,400 people across the UK are diagnosed with melanoma each year compared with 5,600 two decades ago.

A growing UK population with people living longer means the numbers of people being diagnosed with melanoma will continue to climb. 

The number of people dying from the disease is also increasing, with around 2,000 people aged 55 and over dying from melanoma in 2014.

However, 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.

The charity warns that getting sunburnt, which includes any pink or red skin, just once every two years can triple the risk of developing malignant melanoma.

Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK's head of statistics, said: “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.”

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health and patient information, said: “We all need some sun for vitamin D, but enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn can reduce your risk of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

“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 four 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. And never use sunscreen to stay in the sun for longer.”