Skin cancer up by 30% in Scotland

Overall, the statistics revealed a complex picture. Over the last ten years age-standardised incidence rates of cancer in Scotland have fallen by 4% in males – but it has increased by 7% in females. Cancer incidence rates and trends in incidence rates also showed considerable variation between different types of cancer. The rate of cancer of the oesophagus was found to have decreased by 8% over the same period, for example, but skin cancer showed by far the most dramatic rise. 

In a BBC report on the figures Scotland's chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood urged people to take more care in the sun and to contact their GP if they have any cause for concern. "The best way to cut your chances of getting melanoma is to reduce your exposure to the sun and avoid using sunbeds,” she said. "The most common symptom of melanoma is a new mole or a change in the appearance of an existing mole. Melanomas are usually irregular in shape and contain more than one colour. They can be larger than usual moles and might itch or bleed." 

Per Hall, Clinical Director at Check4Cancer and a pioneer in the early detection of skin cancer, commented: “It’s heartening to see a few positive points in the results from Scotland, but the dramatic increase in skin cancer incidence is cause for concern. One issue is that we have, in effect, a cancer legacy. There has been much discussion recently about the current spike in skin cancer being the result of the package holiday boom in the 1960s and 1970s, and it seems highly likely that this sudden increase is connected with the prolonged sun exposure that this brought about. We know that cancer risk also increases as one gets older. Whilst we are far more aware of the dangers now, it also means that people of middle age or older may be at risk as a result of past exposure to sun even if they are currently taking all the necessary precautions. This shows there is still an urgent need to raise awareness of the dangers and make means of early detection available wherever possible.” 

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, the actual number of cancers diagnosed in Scotland has increased over the last 10 years from 27,095 cases in 2003 to 31,013 in 2013 – a figure that is likely due to an ageing population. It is estimated that there are 176,000 people in Scotland who have been diagnosed with cancer over the last 20 years and who are still alive – approximately 3% of the population of Scotland.