Skin cancer diagnoses in Northern Ireland have almost doubled in less than a decade, academics have warned.
While instances of the disease are on the up - a trend in part blamed on the growing accessibility of cheap holidays in the sun - survival rates are also on the increase, research published by Queen's University revealed.
According to the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry produced by the university, nine out of 10 people diagnosed survive the condition in the region, compared with eight out of 10 across the UK.
The total number of cases of the disease diagnosed in Northern Ireland has increased from 182 in 1993 to 296 in 2011. While the majority affected have been women, prevalence among men has more than doubled in that time frame, from 58 in 1993 to 126 in 2011. Of the 296 cases identified in 2011, 57% were in women and 43% were in men.
Dr Anna Gavin, director of Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said the figures provided a timely reminder of the importance of staying safe in the sun. "Northern Ireland's survival rates for malignant melanoma are among the best in Europe," she said. "That is largely due to improvements in treatment, awareness of symptoms and early diagnosis.
"Skin cancer is one of the fastest rising cancers in the UK, and Northern Ireland is no exception. This is likely due to sunbathing habits and the increase in the availability of cheap package holidays. But as the last few weeks have shown, you don't have to go abroad to be exposed to the sun's harmful rays. Even on a cloudy day here in Northern Ireland, the sun will cause damage to the skin, and that damage can lead to cancer.
"People can reduce their risk of developing malignant melanoma by following this advice: seek the shade between 11am - 3pm when the sun is at its strongest; cover-up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses; and always wear sun cream with a minimum SPF 15.
"Malignant melanoma is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. But early diagnosis is crucial. That's why it is important to get to know your skin, and if you notice anything unusual get it checked by your GP. Things to look out for are a change to a mole or a blemish the size of the blunt end of a pencil, or bigger, that has changed in colour, size or texture, or is bleeding or itching.
"More and more people in Northern Ireland are surviving skin cancer, but it is important that we continue to work together to develop better treatments for the one person in 10 - that's around 50 people per year - who do not survive the disease. Our colleagues in Queen's Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, are at the centre of this work, with 300 researchers from around the world developing innovative cancer diagnosis and treatments and pioneering advances in patient care."
The data from the Queen's Cancer Registry showed that 89.9% of those diagnosed with malignant melanoma between 2002-2006 were still alive five years after their diagnosis. That represented a slight increase on the 89.3% five-year survival rate for those diagnosed between 1993-1996. Survival rates are better in women than men. The research showed there are currently almost 3,000 people living in Northern Ireland who had a diagnosis of cancer in the past 18 years.