Spike in skin cancer rates in pensioners linked to cheap vacations
People relax on the beach, in Barcelona, Spain, July 17, 2014. (AP / Manu Fernandez)
Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, April 6, 2015 9:27AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 6, 2015 2:03PM EDT
The rise of cheap holiday packages starting in the 1960s is being linked to increasing skin cancer rates among Britons over the age of 65.
According to new data from Cancer Research U.K., pensioners over the age of 65 are about seven times more likely to develop malignant melanoma compared to 40 years ago.
On average, about 5,700 pensioners are now diagnosed with melanoma every year, compared to just 600 in the mid-1970s, the organization said in a statement.
Cancer Research U.K. found that older British men are about 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with life-threatening skin cancer than their parents' generation. Meanwhile, older women are about five times more likely to develop skin cancer.
The organization said while old age is one of the risk factors for melanoma, the increase is likely linked to the advent of cheap holiday packages, along with the desire to appear tanned, "even at the expense of a painful sunburn."
"Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of developing malignant melanoma and even reddening of the skin is a sign of damage," the organization said in the statement.
Sue Deans, a 69-year-old retired teacher, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2000, and re-diagnosed in 2007.
She said she was part of the generation that took advantage of affordable holiday packages to sunny locales.
"I don't think there was much understanding at the time about the impact that too much sun can have on your risk of getting skin cancer," she said in the statement. "And I loved the sun but suffered quite a bit of sunburn over the years."
Deans said that she now educates family members about the dangers of sun exposure.
Dr. Julie Sharp, head of health information for Cancer Research U.K., said most cases of malignant melanoma are preventable by taking the precautions in the sun, and making sure you don't get a sunburn.
"You can burn at home just as easily as you can on holiday, so remember to spend time in the shade, wear a T-shirt and a hat to protect your skin and regularly apply sunscreen that is at least (SPF) 15," she said. "Swapping bad sun habits for good ones could save your life.”
Similar trends in North America
Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Sandy Skotnicki said similar data trends have been found in North America, including a 2014 Canadian report that found that the incidence rate of melanoma had risen two per cent annually for men, and 1.5 per cent annually for women between 1986 and 2010.
She told CTV News Channel that there are many reasons why seniors are now seeing a spike in skin cancer rates, including lack of knowledge, inferior sunscreens and increased personal leisure time.
"There's lots of factors to understand why there's been an increase in skin cancer and unfortunately the exposure to the sun doesn't show itself until 20, 30 years later,” she said.
She recommends people protect themselves against skin cancer by taking the following precautions:
- Seek shade or stay out of the sun during peak UV index hours (between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.);
- Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 every day, and use sunscreen with SPF 60 when doing physical activities outdoors;
- Avoid tanning beds.