Page last updated at 05:42 GMT, Tuesday, 23 September 2008 06:42 UK

Skin cancer trebles since 1980s

Increased exposure to UV rays has been blamed for the rise in melanomas

Cases of a type of skin cancer have trebled in Northern Ireland since the mid-1980s, researchers have found.

Malignant melanoma, which causes three quarters of skin cancer deaths, was discovered 254 times in 2006.

Figures from the NI Cancer Registry at Queen's University Belfast show there were 80 cases in 1984.

Melanoma was more common among women, research found. Unlike other cancers, it is more often found among more affluent sections of society.

The report also found a significant rise in cases among younger people in 2006, with a third aged under 50 at the time of diagnosis.

Nine cases were found in people aged under 25, according to the Care of Patients with Malignant Melanoma of Skin in Northern Ireland 2006 report.

It found that people in Northern Ireland have among the best survival rates for the cancer in Europe, with 98.8% of patients alive one year after being diagnosed.

'Risk factor'

Northern Ireland Cancer Registry director Dr Anna Gavin said: "The figures are alarming and reflect increased exposure of skin to damaging UV rays from the sun and sunbeds.

"Sunburn in childhood is a particular risk factor."

Melanoma specialist Dr Maureen Walsh said medical professionals need to focus even more on highlighting early warning signs.

"These include the size of a mole or spot increasing to greater than the blunt end of a pencil, or a spot which bleeds if it is itchy," she said.

"If people are worried they should contact their GP, who will decide if they need further referral."

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