New NHS figures have revealed an alarming rise in skin cancer across England, with diagnoses rocketing by 16% in five years.
All types of skin cancer are on the increase, according to the data, with melanoma considered the most dangerous type.
More than 15,000 cases of skin melanoma were diagnosed by NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCG) in 2019, a 13% rise in five years.
And one area of Merseyside has the highest detection rate in the whole of England for that year.
Southport and Formby CCG diagnosed 57.7 malignant melanoma per 100,000 people - a higher ratio than anywhere else in the country.
According to NHS figures for the five-year period from 2014 until 2019 there has been a 67.5% increase in malignant tumours in this area of Sefton - way above the national average - with 305 diagnosed in total.
In comparison, Devon CCG has the second highest diagnosis rate in the country for 2019 at 50.6 per 100,000 - an 11.6% increase from 2014, with a total of 3,332 tumours diagnosed in five years.
Reaction and advice from Southport and Formby CCG
Dr Graeme Allan, Macmillan GP and Primary Care Cancer Lead for NHS Southport and Formby CCG said: “The CCG has been working hard with partners to ensure that people get cancer diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
“A big part of diagnosing any cancer is for us all to be aware of symptoms and to get medical advice if we have any concerns.
“If you notice anything unusual on your skin that doesn’t go away in a month, get in touch with your GP surgery.
“It might help to take a photo of anything unusual to check for any changes. Most skin changes will not be cancer, but any persisting change needs to be checked out.”
“If you have any signs or symptoms of cancer, it is important to speak to your GP as soon as possible.”
Skin cancer in the Liverpool City Region
The latest NHS data on forms of skin cancer spanned the five years from 2014 to 2019, with the diagnosis rate taken from the last of those years.
- South Sefton CCG ranked 11th nationally with a diagnosis rate of 41.2 per 100,000. A total of 299 malignant melanoma tumours were detected between 2014 and 2019 at an increase of 61%.
- Wirral CCG ranked 25th nationally with a diagnosis rate of 35.8 per 100,000. A total of 637 malignant melanoma tumours were detected between 2014 and 2019 at increase of 10.5% from 2014 to 2019.
- St Helens CCG ranked 39th nationally with a diagnosis rate of 31 per 100,000. A total of 327 malignant melanoma tumours detected between 2014 and 2019 at an increase of 40%.
- Knowsley CCG ranked 69th nationally with a diagnosis rate of 25.2 per 100,000. A total of 251 malignant melanoma tumours detected between 2014 and 2019 at an increase of 15.2%.
- Liverpool CCG ranked 94th nationally with a diagnosis rate of 18.9 per 100,00. A total of 621 malignant melanoma tumours detected between 2014 and 2019 at a decrease of 6%.
Why are numbers on the rise?
People shouldn’t rely on SPF-containing moisturisers or cosmetics to keep safe in the sun, dermatologists have warned.
The increasingly popular products do not offer the same level of protection as the equivalent SPF sunscreen, the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) has said.
The warning comes amid an alarming rise in skin cancer - diagnoses have rocketed by 16% in five years across England, new NHS figures show.
Matthew Gass, of the BAD, said: “Skin cancer cases have been on the rise since the 1970s and it is now the most common cancer in the UK. So it is not necessarily a surprise to see that the most recent skin cancer figures for England show that rates have risen again.”
He said while it is not possible to give a definitive reason for the rise in cases, it is “likely caused by an ageing population and better cancer registration practices”.
“It is also possible that changes to sun-seeking behaviour are a factor,” he said.
Mr Gass said in recent years there has been a big increase in the number of moisturisers and cosmetic products containing SPF (sun protection factor).
He said while these are tested in the same way as sunscreens, in reality they “tend to be applied much more thinly, and as such they don’t offer the same level of protection as the equivalent sunscreen”.
He said: “You should only rely on these when you’re getting brief, incidental sun exposure, for example if you are popping out to the shops.”
What types of skin cancer are on the rise?
All types of skin cancer are on the rise in England, according to the latest figures.
Melanoma is considered the most dangerous type of skin cancer. More than 15,000 cases were diagnosed in 2019, a 13% rise in five years.
Keratinocyte cancer, also referred to as non-melanoma, is the most common form of skin cancer.
In 2019, 207,000 cases were diagnosed in England, a 17% rise in five years.
And cases of rare skin cancers rose by 24% over the same timeframe.
What causes skin cancer?
The most common cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or sunbeds, but “taking sensible precautions to protect your skin from the sun is likely to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer in the future,” Mr Gass said.
He noted that the three main ways to better protect yourself from the sun are shade, clothing and sunscreen.
Mr Gass said that the BAD advises making good use of shade, particularly between 11am and 3pm when it’s most sunny, and wearing protective clothing, including hats and sunglasses in order to protect your skin from the sun.
“As a last line of defence, wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 and UVA protection,” he added.
According to the NHS, certain things can also increase your chance of developing melanoma, such as having:
- lots of moles or freckles
- pale skin that burns easily
- red or blonde hair
- a close family member who’s had melanoma
Risk factors that can increase your chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer include:
- a previous non-melanoma skin cancer
- a family history of skin cancer
- pale skin that burns easily
- a large number of moles or freckles
- taking medicine that suppresses your immune system
- a co-existing medical condition that suppresses your immune system
What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
Skin Cancer Awareness Month takes place every May and aims to raise awareness of skin cancer and the signs to look out for.
The symptoms of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer are different.
For melanomas, the most common sign 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 areas are the back in men and the legs in women.
Melanomas are uncommon in areas that are protected from sun exposure, such as the buttocks and the scalp, and in most cases they have an irregular shape and are more than one colour.
The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed. You should look out for a mole that gradually changes shape, size or colour.
The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that persists after a few weeks. It slowly progresses over months or sometimes years.
In most cases, cancerous lumps are red and firm and sometimes turn into ulcers, while cancerous patches are usually flat and scaly.
In either case, report any concerning symptoms to your GP.