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Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 12:40 UK
Skin cancer on rise among 15-34s
By Charlotte Ashton
BBC Switch presenter

Sunbather in London
Experts are warning people should always wear sunscreen when out in the sun

Skin cancer is now the most common cancer among 15 to 34-year-olds, according to new figures out today from Cancer Research UK.

Nearly 10,000 people a year get malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

However, the number of young people affected has doubled in the last 20 years.

Cancer Research UK says cases are rising fast because people let their skin burn in pursuit of a golden tan.

"Getting painful sunburn just once every two years can triple your chances of getting skin cancer," says Dr Jodie Moffatt.

if I did go in the sun [I'd] try to keep up with my mates that do go brown then I'd end up just burning
Skin cancer sufferer Helen Burt

"We know melanoma is caused by overexposure to UV, so it's likely to be due to tanning, and young skin is particularly vulnerable.

"Damage that you do now might increase your chances of getting cancer in 20 or so years time.

"Having fairer, paler skin or lots of moles or freckles puts you more at risk, but you can still get melanoma if you're dark skinned. The thing is not to burn, that's what's key."

The charity also say men are 10% less likely to survive skin cancer than women - possibly because men are less likely to go to the doctor as soon as they see a dodgy mole, or because they get their tops off in the sun so are exposing more skin.

'Competitive tanning'

In a survey of people aged 16 to 24, nearly half said they don't protect themselves properly in the sun and a third admitted to 'competitive tanning' - setting out to get browner than their mates.

Twenty-five-year-old air hostess Helen Burt from Ealing was diagnosed with malignant melanoma when she was just 22.

She admits that she didn't do enough to protect her pale skin.

Malignant melanoma
Helen Burt's malignant melanoma

"I always just used to burn and go white," she says. "I think that was the problem - I burnt, I didn't go brown.

"So if I did go in the sun [I'd] try to keep up with my mates that do go brown then I'd end up just burning. I think that was my downfall really."

Helen has made a full recovery because the cancer hadn't spread, even though she waited a year before getting the dodgy mole on her back checked out.

"They always say when you've got a tan you look slimmer and more toned so I think people are pressurised, but looking back I think, 'Why did I bother?'"

Sun awareness

Cancer Research UK is launching a new campaign, Skindividual, to raise awareness about the importance of being careful in the sun.

New Zealand singer Ladyhawke is backing the campaign and in August will perform at a private gig for the winner of the Skindividual competition.

Ladyhawke, aka Pip Brown, told Newsbeat that in New Zealand awareness of skin cancer is much higher.

"It's engrained in me now just to lather up with sunscreen otherwise I burn," she says.

"I'm not brown in the slightest, except for my last name! I like being in the sun but I never expose any bit of skin. I always wear a T-shirt and a hat. That's how I roll!"

Campaign backer Ladyhawke with Charlotte

Cancer Research UK say going just slightly pink can damage your skin.

Even if you have dark skin you should use shade, clothing and sunscreen to protect yourself.

Dr Moffatt recommends using at least factor 15 sunscreen with a star rating of four or five.

It takes two tablespoons of sunscreen to cover your whole body properly and you should reapply every couple of hours and after every swim, even if the sunscreen is waterproof.

They also warn that sunbeds can differ dramatically in intensity. Some are up to 15 times stronger than the midday sun.

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