The number of people aged between 50 and 59 with malignant melanoma in Scotland has reached an “alarming” rate, Cancer Research UK said.
The increase means, on average, four people in their 50s are now diagnosed with the illness in Scotland every week. Thirty years ago, malignant melanoma was the 17th most common cancer among people in their 50s in Scotland. Now, it is the fifth.
Melanoma, like many cancers, can take decades to develop and doctors say the increased rates in this older age group could be a result of past tanning behaviour.
In the late 1970s, there were about nine cases of malignant melanoma per 100,000 people in their 50s, but new figures show this has increased to about 29 per 100,000.
Experts believe the rise in this age group is down to the emergence of cheaper overseas package holidays to sun-drenched beach resorts in the last three decades.
They also say many of these middle-aged patients will have used sunbeds when they were younger when the fake tanning equipment first hit the market in the 1980s.
Professor Jonathan Rees, of the Department of Dermatology at Edinburgh University, said: “Scottish skin isn’t designed for sunshine and it’s worrying that melanoma rates are on the rise.
“However, if caught early, melanoma can be treated very successfully, so if we can develop a better system of encouraging people to go to the doctor sooner, this could potentially save a great deal of lives.”
The charity Cancer Research UK will today launch an awareness campaign to encourage people to look after their skin in the sun and look out for signs of skin cancer.