Massive increase in skin cancer deaths brings warning for over-65s

PENSIONERS are failing to visit their GP with signs of skin cancer which is contributing to a rise in deaths from the disease, new data reveals.

The death rate from malignant melanoma among over-65s has almost tripled over the past 30 years.

In 1979, there were four deaths per 100,000 people in the UK among this age group, rising to 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2008. In contrast, the death rate among those aged 15 to 64 has remained stable over the same period at around two deaths per 100,000.

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Part of the reason is that older people are not asking their GP to check changes to moles and areas of skin, according to Cancer Research, which highlighted the figures. As a result, the over-65s are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer when it is more advanced compared to those who are younger.

In recent years, around 20 per cent of over-65s were diagnosed with late stage malignant melanoma compared with around seven per cent of 15 to 64-year-olds.

Caroline Cerny, SunSmart campaign manager for Cancer Research UK, said: "While the risk of skin cancer increases with age, the fact that so many over-65s are being diagnosed when the disease is advanced means that older people need to keep a close eye on any changes to their skin or moles to avoid late diagnosis.

"The earlier the cancer is diagnosed the easier it will be to treat. People should be aware of the basic warning signs for malignant melanoma. If a mole is as big as a pencil-top eraser, bleeds, is sore or itchy, uneven in colour or has jagged edges then people should visit their GP without delay."

Dr Jem Rashbass, director of the East of England Cancer Registry, which compiled some of the data, said late diagnosis was a problem in the UK and was likely to be down to a combination of factors.

He said it was important to find the reasons for the delays to improve early diagnosis.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: "Melanoma is a largely preventable disease; people can reduce their chance of getting skin cancer in the first place if they protect their skin from sunburn."