Doctors warn of skin cancer ‘epidemic’ as country’s post war baby boomers are diagnosed with more tumours

Hospitals are seeing a rise in skin cancer cases

Hospitals are seeing a rise in skin cancer cases - Credit: Evening News © 2009

Specialists have warned that skin cancer cases in East Anglia are set to rise over the next three decades after a department at a Norfolk hospital saw its caseload treble in the space of six years.

Experts from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said that the skin cancer “epidemic” was set to get worse as the country’s post-war baby boomers are diagnosed with more tumours.

The Mohs micrographic surgery team, which removes cancers from patients’ faces and necks, was set up at the Colney hospital in 2008 and has gone from doing around 100 procedures in the first year to around 350 surgeries a year.

Officials from the skin cancer department at the N&N have warned that the number of patients with non-melanoma cancers requiring Mohs surgery will increase to 600 a year in the future.

Doctors have warned East Anglians to be aware of the signs of skin cancer and to protect themselves from the sun’s damaging rays.

Melanoma rates in the East of England have increased from around 11 per 100,000 people in 2002 to 16 per 100,000 in 2011 and doctors are bracing themselves for that figure to rise.

Marc Moncrieff, consultant plastic surgeon at the N&N, said awareness of the dangers of the sun was improving. However, people were more likely to get non-melanoma cancers in later life.

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“Skin cancer in this country is an epidemic and the most serious form is melanoma, which is doubling every 10 to 15 years.

“The increase in skin cancer is set to peak in 2040.

“The baby boomers were the first to have decent incomes to go on package holidays and there was no such thing as sunscreen then.

“This hospital is now getting a reputation as a centre of excellence for skin cancer and we are getting referrals from King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Ipswich,” he said.

The hospital deals with 3,000 cases of non-melanoma every year, but only around 400 need Mohs surgery.

Mohs surgery, which has the highest reported cure rate of all treatments of skin cancer, was pioneered by Frederic Mohs, in America, in the 1930s, and was first used in the UK in the 1990s.

The treatment, during an out-patients appointment, allows the immediate and complete microscopic examination of the removed cancer tissue so that all the extensions of the cancer can be removed. Most cases can be completed in three or fewer stages, requiring less than four hours.

Mr Moncrieff added that Mohs had a 99pc success rate. “Non-melanoma is like a spot of rust and if you catch it early it is fine to treat. But if it continues you will have a big hole in your car door,” he said.

Jennifer Garioch, consultant dermatologist at the N&N, said the Mohs team served a population of one-and-a-half million people and there were plans in the pipeline to expand to cope with demand.

The next nearest hospitals for Mohs surgery are in Cambridge and London.

Dr Garioch said they hoped to get a pathology lab installed at the dermatology department so that tumours could be analysed more quickly, which would reduce the waiting times between surgeries.

“I always say that your skin never forgets and remembers sun exposure from your teenage years and 20s.

“Our service is unique in that we have dermatology working closely with plastic surgeons and we are the only Mohs like that and Marc is only the second plastic surgeon in the country to do Mohs. We have tremendous back-up from the pathology department and we cannot do it without them,” she said.

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