Melanoma deaths in men soar

Cancer Research UK

For the first time the number of men who have died from melanoma in the UK has exceeded 1000 a year - a 31 per cent increase in the last decade.

More men than women die from this potentially fatal form of skin cancer. And one of the reasons for this is because men fail to check out suspect moles - according to Cancer Research UK.

A new survey* of almost 2000 men found that almost 60 per cent never check their backs - where skin cancer often occurs - to see if existing moles have changed or if new ones have appeared.

And the under 24s and over 65s were the worst culprits as they were the least likely to visit a doctor if they noticed any mole changes.

According to the survey - which launches Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign in Sun Awareness week - almost 70 per cent of men don’t think they are at risk of skin cancer even though one third of those men admit to having been sunburnt. Overall more than 30 per cent would not go to the doctor if they noticed any changes in their moles.

Although fewer men than women are diagnosed with malignant melanoma - the potentially fatal form of skin cancer - more men actually die from it. And research suggests this is largely due to the cancer not being diagnosed until a more advanced stage.

Dr Catherine Harwood, consultant dermatologist for Cancer Research UK, urged men to be aware of mole changes and act promptly.

“The thickness of a melanoma, at diagnosis, is very important in determining the outcome of the cancer,” she said. “Men seem to be generally less aware of mole changes than women and as a result they often present when the melanoma is already quite thick. Detecting a melanoma in its early stages means earlier treatment with a much better chance of survival.”

Latest figures show that 1,777 people die from melanoma each year and 1,002 of these are men. Research by Prof Rona MacKie in Scotland has found that almost 30 per cent of melanoma cases in men over 65 were diagnosed when their moles were in the highest thickness category. In men of all ages 20 per cent presented in this category while in women overall the figure was 16 per cent.

Former Celtic footballer Tommy Burns, 49, was diagnosed last year with melanoma after he noticed one of the moles on his inner thigh - that had been there since childhood - had begun to get darker and turn crusty. “I think men are careless about their bodies, he said. “If they notice anything a little out of the ordinary they tend to brush it to one side. But after my experience I would urge anyone who notices the smallest skin change to get it checked.”

The rate of melanoma in men is rising faster than for any other cancer except prostate. Over the last 10 years melanoma rates in men have increased by 42 per cent as against 48 per cent for prostate cancer.

Prof MacKie, from Glasgow University, said: “In men melanoma often occurs on the back and this may well be an additional reason why they present late. It is important for men to look in the mirror so that they can spot any new moles or changes in existing ones. And getting partners to check their backs is a good idea as well.”

This year’s SunSmart Campaign is targeting men in an effort to raise awareness of skin cancer and the importance of reporting any skin changes to a doctor. It is also focussing on outdoor workers who are likely to have more sun exposure than people who work in an office.

Sara Hiom, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “People who work outside and whose faces, arms and legs are constantly exposed to sun are more likely to be diagnosed with non melanoma skin cancer. This is far more common and less dangerous than melanoma but it is important to have it treated as soon as possible.

“We are providing practical information about the changes that people need to look out for when checking their skin. Skin cancer can grow from a mole, freckle or a normal patch of skin. If people notice any changes in size, shape or colour, that happen over weeks or months, they should see their doctor without delay. ”

Campaign posters and leaflets about detecting skin cancer are being distributed to the construction and agricultural industries, unions and all UK health professionals. The SunSmart Campaign urges people - especially the fair-skinned - to check their skin regularly for changes using the ABCD rule.

The ABCD rule:

  • Asymmetry: The two halves of a melanoma may not look the same.
  • Border: Edges of a melanoma may be irregular, blurred or jagged.
  • Colour: The colour of a melanoma may be uneven, with more than one shade.
  • Diameter: Many melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter, the size of a pencil eraser.

Other signs of skin cancer:

  • a new growth or sore that won’t heal
  • a spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts
  • a mole or growth that bleeds, crusts or scabs

Any changes in a mole, freckle or patch of normal skin that occur quickly over weeks or months should be taken seriously and a doctor consulted without delay.

Ends

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Notes to Editor

  • *The survey of 1920 men found that 37 per cent of 18-24 year olds and 39 per cent of the over 65s would not go to the doctor with suspect moles compared with an overall average of 32 per cent.
  • 34 per cent of men from lower socio-economic groups checked their backs compared with an overall average of 42 per cent. And while 29 per cent of men overall thought they were at risk of skin cancer the figure was only 20 per cent in the lower socio-economic groups. (DEs)
  • Men in Northern Ireland had the worst statistics for checking their back with 69 per cent saying they never checked for changes while men in Wales, the Yorkshire Humberside area, the South West and the South East (excluding London) were the most conscientious with almost half saying they did check.

Skin Cancer Facts

Nine out of ten skin cancers are easily treatable and unlikely to spread. They are called non-melanoma skin cancer and there are more than 65,000 new cases registered each year in the UK.

Malignant melanoma, which accounts for less than one in ten skin cancers, is the most serious type of the disease and may be fatal. It is more common in women than men.

Around 8,000 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Of these 3,500 are men. It usually develops in cells in the outer layer of the skin but can spread to other parts of the body. There are almost 1,800 deaths each year from malignant melanoma.

Melanoma is the second most common cancer among people aged 20-39 and early detection is crucial for successful treatment.

Research says that sunburn in childhood can double the risk of melanoma in later life.

Who is at Risk?

Some people are born with a greater risk of skin cancer. These people tend to:

  • burn easily
  • have fair skin and/or freckles
  • have red or fair hair and/or pale eyes
  • have had skin cancer before
  • have a large number of moles (50+)
  • have skin cancer in the family (especially melanoma)
  • have had bad sunburn in the past.

If one of more of the descriptions on this list apply to you, you should take extra care to protect yourself from the sun.

Babies and children need extra protection from the sun because their skin is delicate and easily damaged.

The SunSmart Code says:

Be SunSmart in the Summer Sun

Those most at risk are people with fair skin, lots of moles or freckles or a family history of skin cancer. Know your skin type and use the UV Index to find out when you need to protect yourself.

Spend time in the shade between 11 and 3 The summer sun is most damaging to your skin in the middle of the day.

Make sure you never burn

Sunburn can double your risk of skin cancer.

Aim to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses When the sun is at its peak sunscreen is not enough.

Remember to take extra care with children Young skin is delicate. Keep babies out of the sun especially around midday.

Then use factor 15+ sunscreen

Apply sunscreen generously and reapply often.

Also report mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to your doctor.

For more information visit our SunSmart website.

Cancer Research UK’s Sun Smart Campaign is funded by UK Health Departments and launched in March 2003. Members of its advisory board include representatives of the National Radiological Protection Board, British Association of Dermatologists, International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, EUROSKIN, UK Skin Cancer Working Party, British Photodermatology Group, Wessex Cancer Trust and, more recently, independent experts on vitamin D and nutrition. Boots, Homebase and BAA are also backing the campaign.

Half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. Cancer Research UK's Reduce the Risk campaign, launched January 2005, aims to raise public awareness of the avoidable risks for cancer and the importance of early detection. Being SunSmart is one of the campaign’s five key messages.

For more information visit our Reduce the Risk website.