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Rates of skin cancer are five times higher than 40 years ago

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Rates of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma are five times higher than they were 40 years ago, according to figures announced by Cancer Research UK.

More than 13,000 people developed the disease in 2011 compared with around 1800 in 1975.

The latest incidence rates have shown that around 17 people in every 100,000 are diagnosed with malignant melanoma in Great Britain every year. This is compared with just over three per 100,000 in the mid-'70s.

The rise in the numbers of cases could be attributed to the increase in numbers of people holidaying abroad and the increased use of sunbeds, said Nick Ormiston-Smith, the head of statistics at Cancer Research UK. However, better detection rates might also explain the increase in skin cancer cases.

Julia Frater, senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: "Sun protection messages go hand-in-hand with travel advice, which practice nurses already give, so they're ideally placed to educate patients about safety in the sun. And in 'by the way conversations' they can bring up the sorts of signs and symptoms to look out for.

'On our helpline we regularly talk to people who are worried about a skin change and are reluctant to see their GP, but seem so much more comfortable about seeing their practice nurse when we suggest it. We know from research that patients often present themselves with worries about cancer under the guise of other issues, and practice nurses are in a good position to uncover people's underlying concerns,' she added.

Julie van Onselen, an independent dermatology nurse, agreed that practice nurses were key to identifying skin cancers. 'They have the opportunity to examine skin while they are taking a patient's blood pressure or administering immunisations.

'Patients are also more likely to consult practice nurses if they have any concerns over skin lesions or moles, rather than their doctors, during health checks.'

'If skin cancer is caught quickly, then it can be treated. Practice nurses can help to ensure that people check their skin for changes and also ask questions if they see anything that is out of the ordinary,' Ms van Onselen said.

'It is also important that practice nurses educate people on how to protect their skin from the sun, particularly young children. Things like using a high SPF, staying in the shade and not using tanning beds are all ways to lower risk factors,' she said.

Malignant melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and is now the fifth most common cancer in the UK. More than 2000 people die from the disease every year.

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