News

Older men at higher risk of skin cancer: sun safety campaigns too youth-focused

1 Sep 2014

A study being presented at the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin in Edinburgh Scotland this week, reveals melanoma skin cancer rates in England to be rising faster in older men than any other demographic, suggesting that awareness campaigns might be too youth-focussed.

Conducted by analysts at Public Health England (PHE), the research discovered that the incidence rate of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is rapidly increasing in the older population, in particular amongst men, raising concerns that current sun safety campaigns are not reaching these groups.

The most common type of melanoma – called superficial spreading melanoma – increased by 12 per cent per year over a 21-year period (1990 to 2010) for men aged 60 and over, surpassing the incidence rates for older women (nine per cent) and younger men (eight per cent).

The increase in thicker (more advanced) tumours in older men is also increasing at a greater rate than in other demographics – a 12 per cent increase per year compared to just six per cent in younger men – suggesting that older men may be seeking medical advice later.

Melanoma is more common on the back in men and it is difficult for patients to spot early changes in a lesion on the back.

Furthermore, in older people it is common to develop a variety of harmless lesions on the skin, such as warts.

Differentiating melanomas from these is difficult.

These two observations may contribute to older men presenting with thicker tumours.

The increase in melanoma incidence rate for older men varied by body site, with the fastest rise on the trunk and upper limbs (both around nine per cent per year), whilst for other demographic groups there was no such variation.

PHE’s findings are mirrored by an earlier study into skin cancer incidence rates in the Scottish population, which showed rates of melanoma trebling in males between 1979 and 2003 (with 206 cases between 1979 and 1983, and 2073 from 1999 to 2003) and the greatest increases being seen in those aged 60 and over.

Julia Verne, Director of the South West Knowledge and Intelligence Team, Public Health England commented: “Studies into the causes of melanoma have emphasised the importance of excessive UV exposure and especially burning through recreational activities and holidays. The findings of this study highlight the need for education campaigns to target the entire spectrum of people across all demographics about the dangers of sunburn and sunbathing.”

Johnathon Major of the British Association of Dermatologists added: “Older men have continuously proved a problematic group for us to target with skin cancer advice and studies such as these underline the requirement to reach them. We are constantly developing our communication initiatives to tender to wider audiences and target groups such as these who have been demonstrated to be in particular need. With health messaging, there can be an over-reliance on newer technologies such as social media, but these don’t always reach the groups most in need.

“For this reason we now operate two major sun awareness campaigns each year - Sun Awareness Week and the Be Sun Aware Roadshow, both of which are aimed at all age groups. We try to visit a range of outdoors events, from sporting events to gardening shows, to capture people whose recreational activities mean they spend time in the sun, perhaps unprotected.

“There are two issues at play here – skin cancer rates are rising faster in this group, so we conclude that protecting the skin from sun damage is important for adult men as well as others, and second, there is concern that older men also seem to be presenting later. This shows we need to address both our prevention messages, and our early detection messages, at older people as a matter of priority. ”

Source: British Association of Dermatologists