SKIN cancer rates in the North-East have more than trebled in the last 20 years with hundreds of people diagnosed every year, new figures have shown.
The region has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer - according to Cancer Research UK.
Increased sunbed use and a failure to take sensible precautions in the sun, particularly when on holiday, are thought to be responsible for the rise.
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The figures from Cancer Research UK show that about 15 in every 100,000 people in the North-East are diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year – about 450 people - compared to four per 100,000 in the early 1990s.
The number of men diagnosed with skin cancer has increased from 3.3 per 100,000 in the years 1990-1993 to 13.7 in each 100,000 people between 2008 and 2010 – an increase of 318 per cent.
Figures for women show a similar change, up to 15.8 cases per 100,000 people from 5.1 per 100,000 in the early 1990s.
Cancer Research UK said people need to be more aware of the dangers of the sun, particularly those with fair skin and a high number of moles and freckles.
Mark Pratt, 45, from Marton, near Middlesbrough, was diagnosed with skin cancer four months ago and had two operations on his back and his head.
He said: "Although my cancer isn’t the aggressive type, it did have to be removed. The doctor said to me on the second occasion that she would be seeing me again, it will come back.
“For the rest of my life I have to wear factor 50 sun tan lotion in the summer and factor 15 in the winter – and that’s just in the UK. The same goes for my kids because it can be hereditary.”
Mr Pratt, who is fair-skinned, said he spent a lot of time in the sun in his youth and added: “I wish I had known, I wish I had covered up more and used sun tan lotion when I was younger.
“I was never that bothered about a tan, I just loved being in the sun but I have to keep out of it now.”
Nationally, skin cancer diagnosis rates are more than five times higher than they were in the 1970s, which saw the start of package holidays to sunnier climes.
Skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and more than 2,000 people die from it each year.
Lisa Millett, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman for the North-East, said: “We know overexposure to UV rays from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer.
“This means, in many cases, the disease can be prevented, so it’s essential to get into good sun safety habits, whether at home or abroad.
“Sadly more and more people in the North-East are being diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year.”
There is some good news – survival rates for skin cancer are among the highest for any form of the illness. More than eight in ten people diagnosed with the disease will survive.
Cancer Research UK has teamed up with skincare company Nivea to encourage people to stay safe by using a sun cream of at least factor 15, spending time in the shade during the hottest part of the day and wearing a hat and sunglasses in the sun.
For more safety advice from Cancer Research UK visit sunsmart.org.uk