Skin cancer cases are set to surpass 20,000 for the first time this year, according to analysis by Cancer Research UK.

The charity predicts 2024 will see a record 20,800 people diagnosed with melanoma, despite 90 per cent of cases being completely preventable.

The increase in skin cancer rates has occurred across all ages but has largely been driven by the eldest who took advantage of a boom in cheap package holidays to sunny destinations that first took off in the Sixties.

Millions of people now fly abroad for hot weather holidays each year with the extra exposure to ultraviolet radiation the leading cause of the cancer.

The predictions would mean that the number of people diagnosed with skin cancer this year would be almost a third higher than a decade ago.

The biggest increase was seen among those aged 80 and over, up by 57 per cent in 10 years, driven in part by a growing and ageing population, as well as better diagnostics.

Younger people are more likely to take precautions against the sun because of the known link to cancer, the charity said, but there was still a seven per cent increase in cases among those aged 25 to 49.

Vital to reduce risk

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive at Cancer Research UK, said: “The fact that the majority of these cases are preventable underlines the importance of people taking sun safety seriously.

“Survival from cancers including melanoma continues to improve, demonstrating the substantial progress made possible by research. But it’s vital that people try to reduce their risk of getting the disease in the first place.”

With hot summer months around the corner, the charity has partnered with Nivea Sun to give advice to the public. It recommends people spend time in the shade especially during the hottest period of the day, 11am to 3pm, cover up with clothes, a hat and UV-protected sunglasses, and use sunscreen with protection levels of at least factor 30.

Anyone who notices any unusual changes to their skin, such as a new or changing mole, a sore that doesn’t heal, or area of skin the appearance of which has changed, should contact their GP.

While skin cancer cases are at record levels, survival rates are also improving with almost nine in 10 patients now living for 10 years or more after a diagnosis.

Trials of new vaccines to treat skin cancer are underway and could further improve survival rates.

About 70 British patients will receive a personalised jab called mRNA-4157 (V940) during the trial led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust with results so far suggesting it could cut the risk of death by half compared with standard treatment.

I was so scared

Dr Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, warned that “getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple the risk of developing skin cancer compared with never being burnt”.

She added: “Whether you are enjoying the good weather abroad or here at home, it’s important to protect yourself from too much sun, especially if you burn easily.

“Remember that sunburn doesn’t only happen when it’s hot – it can happen on cooler or cloudier days too.”

Caroline, 57, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2018 after spotting a tiny mole-like blemish on her leg. She is now living cancer free after undergoing successful surgery and is warning others of the perils of sunburn.

“I was so scared when I first received the news,” she said. “I feel really lucky that treatment was successful, but I know others who haven’t been as fortunate as me.

“I’ve never been a sunbather, but I have burnt my skin on holiday in the past. Now, I’m so much more careful. I hope my story will encourage people to think about their habits and take care when they’re enjoying the sun.

“It’s really sad to hear that the numbers of people getting melanoma are still going up, especially when so many cases are preventable. If you see any unusual changes to your skin, make sure to see your GP. It could make all the difference!”

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