Skin Cancer Rates Have Increased Significantly in Recent Decades

March 30, 2021
Alana Hippensteele, Editor

In England, incidence rates of the skin cancer cutaneous malignant melanoma were found to have increased by more than 550% among males and 250% among females since the early 1980s.

In England, incidence rates of the skin cancer cutaneous malignant melanoma were found to have increased by more than 550% among males and 250% among females since the early 1980s, according to a study by Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), published in The Lancet Regional Health - Europe.

Currently, skin cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer in the United Kingdom. The main risk factor for skin cancer is excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun, which is found to cause 86% of skin cancer cases in the country. The second most common source is exposure to artificial sources of UV radiation from indoor tanning beds and/or lamps.

"Our study shows that overall there has been a steady and significant increase in rates of skin cancer during the last four decades, which was essentially due to the continually increasing rates in middle (age 35-64 years) and old (65+ years) ages,” said lead author Anjum Memon, professor and chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at BSMS, in a press release. "We observed that the steepest increase was in males (more than two-fold that of females) and at old ages. The steeper increase in males is consistent with their relatively greater sun exposure and poor sun-protective behavior."

Additionally, the study demonstrated that the rates of skin cancer in young people aged 0 to 34 years in England have stabilized over the past 2 decades. This suggests that public health campaigns targeted at children, adolescents, and parents may have effectively influenced behavior in these populations.

"The stabilization of incidence in young people is encouraging and emphasizes the importance of continued and sustained primary prevention measures to further improve sun-protective behaviors—such as avoidance of excessive exposure to sunlight and indoor tanning, appropriate clothing and application of sunscreens," said co-author Peter Bannister, a medical student at BSMS, in the press release.

The study investigators were also able to determine that the site of a person’s skin cancer was likely associated with their pattern of UV radiation exposure.

"All the available evidence suggests that the enormous increase in the rates of skin cancer of the trunk (+817% in males, +613% in females) and arms (+750% in males, +518% in females) since the 1980s in England can be mostly attributable to an increasing trend in intermittent high intensity recreational UV radiation exposure due to lifestyle and societal changes," Memon said in the press release.

Memon explained some examples of this type of exposure include sunbathing, holidaying in a place with strong sunlight, proliferation of indoor tanning studios, the budget holiday industry and airlines, the increasing trend of traveling to sunny locations, and the use of sunbeds.

“Considering that the large majority (86%) of skin cancers in the UK and other high-risk populations are preventable, this study has highlighted the potential benefits of effective primary and secondary prevention measures to substantially reduce the burden of the disease,” said Malcolm Reed, MD, BMedSci, MBCHB, FRCS, professor of surgical oncology and dean of BSMS, in the press release. “This could have significant benefits for individuals, populations and health services, making skin cancer one of the most preventable forms of cancer on a global scale."

REFERENCE

Rates of skin cancer have increased dramatically over recent decades. Sussex, UK: University of Sussex; January 26, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/uos-ros012621.php. Accessed March 26, 2021.