Skin cancer death rates among men have more than tripled since the 1970s, research reveals, prompting fresh warnings from experts to stay safe in the sun.
Since 1973, death rates from melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – have increased by 219% in men, compared with the rise of 76% in women, Cancer Research UK found. As many as 1,400 men are now dying from the disease each year, in contrast to 980 women. This amounts to a total of six people a day, the charity said.
Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with 16,000 cases a year. Cancer Research UK said that almost nine in 10 cases were preventable.
Experts said the new figures highlighted how men were more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage of the disease. Changes to the skin of men are often found on their torso; potentially, that can occur after going shirtless in the sun.
Men and women are being urged to be particularly careful this summer, with experts warning that the sun can be just as strong in Britain as it is abroad. High numbers of “staycations” are expected due to the current chaos at airports.
“These figures showing that six people die of melanoma every day in the UK really drive home the importance of sun safety,” said Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK. “We all need to take steps to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of skin cancer.”
Mitchell urged particular caution over the next few days after the Met Office extended an extreme heat weather warning for England and Wales to Tuesday. UK temperatures are expected to hit record highs.
“This weekend, remember to spend some time in the shade, cover up with clothing, and regularly apply sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and four or five stars,” said Mitchell. “And if you notice any unusual changes to a patch of skin or nail, don’t put off telling your doctor. In most cases it’s not cancer, but if it is, an early diagnosis can make all the difference.”
Cancer Research UK said that after taking into account age differences, it found that men were 69% more likely to die from melanoma than women. While death rates have decreased by 9% for women in the last decade, they have not yet improved for men.
The rise of package holidays since the 1970s, and the more recent surge in cheap flights to sunny destinations, means more people are going abroad, sometimes several times a year, where the sun can be stronger, leading to more people developing skin cancer.
But rates of incidence and deaths are rising faster among men than women. Figures show rates of melanoma cases among men have leapt by 47% in the last 10 years, compared with 30% among women.
Experts are uncertain why men are experiencing faster rising melanoma case and death rates, but several factors could be at play, they said. Cancer Research UK said a recent survey found that sun protection was often not a key focus for men; although 84% of men knew sunburn increased the risk of skin cancer, less than a quarter said they always protected themselves from the sun. When asked why they had not protected themselves in the sun, 25% of men said they did not feel the sun was strong enough, while 23% admitted they had not thought about protection.
Experts believe a key risk for men is with their torso when going shirtless in the garden or on the beach, especially when that part of the body gets intermittent sun exposure. It may be that the torso is not exposed for a very long time but for a short, intense period, so risking significant burns on an area that is not normally exposed.
The NHS says the most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. This can happen anywhere on the body, but the most commonly affected area is the back in men and the legs in women.
People can reduce their risk by using sunscreen and dressing sensibly in the sun. Sunbeds and sun lamps should be avoided. Regularly checking skin can also help lead to an early diagnosis and increase the chances of successful treatment.