Number of skin cancer cases triple for the Seventies ‘sun generation’ with 25 being diagnosed every day
23:01 GMT, 23 July 2012
The number of over-50s being diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer has trebled in 30 years.
Experts say generations of adults are paying a tragic price for the rise of tanning salons and cheap holidays to the sun which boomed in the 1970s.
An average 25 cases of malignant melanoma are being diagnosed in the over-50s every day, according to Cancer Research UK. The rates have trebled among those aged 50 to 59 but have risen five-fold in the 60 to 69, 70 to 79 and over-80 age groups.
Generations of adults are now paying the price for too much exposure to the sun on regular holidays to resorts such as Benidorm in Spain
Malignant melanoma is by far the most dangerous form of skin cancer and kills 2,000 Britons a year, the majority aged over 50.
The researchers say the sudden rise in cases may have been triggered by cheap package holidays introduced in the 1970s.
This coincided with a sudden obsession with tanning which meant even people who had not previously gone abroad spent hours in the sun. Very few used suncream as they had no idea how much harm the ultra-violet rays were causing.
Additionally, these age groups would have been among the first to try out sunbeds, which were also introduced in the Seventies, and became increasingly popular in the Eighties and Nineties.
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But tumours are only just manifesting now as they take years or decades to develop and are caused by gradual damage to the skin’s DNA.
Yinka Ebo, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, added: ‘The increased rates we’re seeing are most likely a reflection of past tanning behaviour.’
Professor Jonathan Rees, a skin specialist at Edinburgh University, said: ‘Over the past 40 to 50 years people’s exposure to sun has probably increased but it’s very difficult to prove. If you were to go back to the middle of the last century people did not tend to lie on the beach for hours as they do now.
‘In the early Fifties people’s idea of sun oil was sticking olive oil on your skin.’
Since 1981, rates of malignant melanoma among 50 to 59-year-olds have risen from 7.5 cases per 100,000 people to 26.6 cases.
Among the 60 to 69 age group they have risen from 8.9 cases to 44.2 per 100,000 and for those aged 70 to 79, from 9.9 to 55 per 100,000.
Those with fair skin are at far higher risk as they have lower levels of the chemical melanin – the body’s natural sun defence.
Experts say once the skin burns, its DNA has been damaged by the sun’s UV rays.
After a few days redness fades as the cells repair themselves, but not all completely heal and if the skin is repeatedly burned over a number of years the damage can trigger tumours.
Cancer Research UK figures also reveal that at least 80 per cent of those diagnosed with the illness will still be alive five years later.
However, as with all cancers, the tumours are easier to treat if they are spotted early. The first sign is usually a mole on the skin that can be itchy, red or bleeding. The tumours can quickly spread to other organs but if caught in time can be surgically removed or shrunk by radiotherapy.
‘Over-exposure to the sun is one of the main risk factors for this type of cancer,’ the Department of Health warns. ‘Use a high-factor sunscreen, cover up and spend the hottest times of the day in the shade.’