THE NUMBER of people diagnosed with skin cancer in Hampshire has doubled over the last 20 years, the Daily Echo can reveal today.

The shocking figures from Cancer Research UK show a dramatic increase in the cases of patients in the county fighting malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

The warning comes as the charity launches its campaign to encourage people to be safe in the sun this summer, in a bid to slash the number of people struck down with the disease.

The latest incidence rates show that around 22 people in every 100,000 are diagnosed with malignant melanoma in Hampshire every year, compared to just 12 per 100,000 people in the early 1990s.

This means that around 510 people are developing malignant melanoma in the region every year, marking a significant change since the early 1990s when just 220 people were diagnosed every 12 months.

Malignant melanoma is now the fifth most common cancer in the UK and more than 2,000 people die from the disease each year.

Rates have been increasing dramatically across the UK since the mid 1970s and they are now five times higher than they were 40 years ago.

Experts believe that the rise is partly down to an explosion in package holidays to Europe dating from the late 1960s and the increasing popularity of the “must-have” tan often achieved only after damaging sunburn. The boom in sunbed use has also helped to fuel the increase in skin cancer and better detection methods may also have contributed to the increase in the number of people diagnosed.

Helen Johnstone, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the south 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.

“This is why we’ve joined forces with Nivea Sun to raise vital awareness and funds for research. By following some simple tips and taking care not to burn – people can enjoy the sun much more safely this summer.

“Sadly more and more people in the south east are being diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year.

“But the good news is that survival is amongst the highest for any cancer. More than eight in ten people will now survive the disease.”