Skin cancer deaths have soared around the world since the 1980s

Skin cancer is more common among men ‘because they avoid sun cream’ as death rates have jumped by 70% over the last three decades

  • Australia has the highest melanoma deaths – it kills 8.3 people per every 100,000
  • Slovakia and Slovenia are placed second and third, while the UK ranks 15th
  • Rates are up in all but one of 33 wealthy countries around the world studied
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Skin cancer death rates have soared in wealthy countries across the world over the last three decades, research shows. 

Rates of melanoma – the deadliest form of the disease – have risen for men in all but one of 33 countries studied since 1985.

Australia has the worst relationship with the cancer, with 8.3 deaths from it per every 100,000 people, followed by Slovakia and Slovenia. The UK ranks 15th with 4.2.  

And the rates are worse, sometimes more than twice as bad, among men – in Britain and Spain 70 per cent more men are dying of skin cancer than 30 years ago.

Experts say this could be because men are less likely to use sun cream or protect themselves properly from the sun’s damaging UV rays. 

Skin cancer rates and higher and rising faster among men, who experts say are more likely to die from the disease because they’re less likely to wear sun cream and protect themselves

Researchers from the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) compared skin cancer deaths data for countries worldwide between 1985 and 2015.

Lead researcher Dr Dorothy Yang, of the Royal Free Hospital in London, said: ‘Despite public health efforts to promote awareness of melanoma and encourage sun-smart behaviours, melanoma incidence has been increasing in recent decades. 

‘However, some new reports have identified signs of stabilisation and decline in melanoma death rates in places like Australia and Northern Europe.’

Statistics were taken from 33 developed nations – most of them from Europe –around the globe. There was no data for the US, Canada or New Zealand.

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Japan had the lowest number of deaths from melanoma in 2015, with just 0.4 people per 100,000 dying from the disease.

This figure is 20 times lower than that of Australia, which sits a wide margin above second-placed Slovenia, with 6.4 deaths per 100,000, and Slovakia with 5.8.

Mortality is rising faster among men and more slowly – even going down in some cases – among women.         

Reasons for the difference between the sexes are unclear but evidence suggests men are ‘less likely to protect themselves from the sun’ or heed public health warnings, Dr Yang said.

More than 90 per cent of melanoma cancers are caused by skin cell damage from exposure to the sun or other sources of ultraviolet radiation such as tanning beds. 

In eight of the countries examined, men’s skin cancer death rates increased by at least 50 per cent over the three decades. In Ireland and Croatia it roughly doubled.

Also seeing a sharp jump were Spain and Britain (70 per cent), The Netherlands (60 per cent), and France and Belgium (50 per cent).

Czech Republic was the only country that saw a reduction in their rate of skin cancer deaths among men.

In the US, which was not included in the study, male melanoma mortality went up by about 25 percent, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the nations with the biggest rise in skin cancer deaths were often not the ones with the highest death rates overall, the new research showed.  



In Australia, for example, nearly six of every 100,000 men succumbed to the disease in 2013-15. 

That is twice the second highest male death rate, in Finland, but only a 10 per cent increase compared to 30 years earlier.

‘There is evidence that suggests men are less likely to protect themselves from the sun or engage with melanoma awareness and prevention campaigns,’ said Dr Yang.

‘There is also ongoing work looking for any biological factors underlying the difference in mortality rates between men and women.’

There is a debate over how much of Australia’s skin cancer rate stems from a weakness in the earth’s ozone layer. 

The so-called ‘ozone hole’ was especially big over Australia when anti-skin cancer efforts began in the 1980s.

Skin cancer deaths among women in 1985 in Australia occurred at half the rate as for men, and declined by 10 per cent over the next 30 years, the research found.

Other countries where female mortality from the disease went down over the same period are Austria (nine per cent), the Czech Republic (16 per cent), and Israel (23 per cent). 

In Romania, Sweden and Britain there were slight increases among women.

However, women’s death rates saw at least as big a rise in the Netherlands (58 per cent), Ireland (49 per cent), Belgium (67 per cent) and Spain (74 per cent). 

Scientists are investigating whether biological or genetic factors might also play a role in skin cancer, but findings so far are unclear, Dr Yang added.

Professor Poulam Patel, chair of the NCRI Skin Cancer Clinical Studies Group, was not involved with the study but added: ‘These results suggest that melanoma will continue to be a health issue over the coming years, and we will need to find effective strategies to accurately diagnose and successfully treat patients.’   

The research was presented at the 2018 UK National Cancer Research Institute Conference in Glasgow. 


Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumors. 

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 91,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in the US in 2018 and more than 9,000 are expected to die from it.


  • Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
  • Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma 
  • Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
  • Hair color: Red heads are more at risk than others
  • Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
  • Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk


  • Removal of the melanoma:

This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary. 

  • Skin grafting: 

The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent. 

  • Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy: 

This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body. 


  • Use sunscreen and do not burn
  • Avoid tanning outside and in beds 
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
  • Keep newborns out of the sun
  • Examine your skin every month
  • See your physician every year for a skin exam 

 Source: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society

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