Older people 'miss skin cancer signs'

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Older people are less likely to get skin changes checked by a doctor, leading to a steep rise in cancer deaths, say researchers.

The East of England Cancer Registry reports that deaths from melanoma among the over 65s have tripled in the past 30 years.

The elderly are more likely to be diagnosed when the cancer has spread.

Cancer Research UK says pensioners should keep a close eye on moles and report suspicious changes to GPs.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and is linked to cumulative sun exposure over a lifetime.

This means that the over-65s are more likely to develop the disease in the first place.

Overlooked

However, unlike younger people, the registry data reveals that the classic signs of a cancerous mole are being overlooked among a host of other changes to older skin.

This means that by the time the mole cannot be ignored, the cancer is likely to be at a more advanced stage, making it far harder to treat.

Dr Jem Rashbass, the director of the East of England Cancer Registry, which collates data on cancer to identify trends among the population, said: "Although there have been some improvements in the number of over 65s being diagnosed with melanoma at a late stage, the figures suggest that more needs to be done to raise awareness about skin cancer among this generally retired population."

Start Quote

Melanoma is a largely preventable disease. Summer may be over, but the damage to skin cells shown by sunburn can remain long after the redness fades”

End Quote Sara Hiom Cancer Research UK

The registry data revealed that, for every year since 1997, significantly more elderly people have been diagnosed with late-stage melanoma compared with under-65s.

While the death rate among older people rose from four deaths per 100,000 people in 1979 to 11.4 per 100,000 in 2008, the death rate for people aged between 15 and 64 has remained stable.

Sara Hiom, from Cancer Research UK, said: "Melanoma is a largely preventable disease. Summer may be over, but the damage to skin cells shown by sunburn can remain long after the redness fades."

Her colleague Caroline Cerny, from the charity's "Sunsmart" campaign, highlighted the classic warning signs of melanoma.

She said: "If a mole is as big as a pencil-top eraser, bleeds, is sore or itchy, uneven in colour or has jagged edges, then people should visit their GP without delay."

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