People aged in their 60s and 70s are around five times more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer than their parents were 30 years ago, a new analysis of figures has showed.
Malignant melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and incidence rates have risen dramatically since the 1970s.
People in their 60s and 70s have seen the biggest increase over the last three decades, from seven cases per 100,000 people in the mid 1970s to 36 cases per 100,000 in 2004/06.
More than 10,400 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed each year in the UK. Cancer Research UK, which released the analysis, said many older people now experiencing skin cancer would have been enjoying cheap package holidays in the 1970s. This was when "sunburn before suntan was a common ritual" and was the time when sunbeds arrived in the UK, the charity said.
The most dramatic rise in malignant melanoma has been among men in their 60s and 70s. They are now more than seven times as likely to be diagnosed with the disease as in the 1970s.
Launching the 2010 SunSmart campaign for Cancer Research UK, Caroline Cerny said: "A change in the culture of tanning including the explosion of cheap package holidays and the introduction of sunbeds in the 70s means we're now seeing alarming rates of melanoma for an entire age group.
"The battle against melanoma is far from won. Today the problem threatens to get worse as teenagers continue to crave a tan on the beach and top it up cheaply on sunbeds. Already, skin cancer is predicted to become the fourth most common cancer for men and for women in the UK by 2024.
"We must continue to try and stop this pattern of behaviour or melanoma rates in future generations will hit an all time high."
She said people should use a high factor sunscreen and avoid the temptation to redden or burn in order to get a tan. Those with fair skin, freckles and lots of moles should also take extra care in the sun.
Cancer Research UK predicts that by 2024, rates of malignant melanoma in people aged 60 to 79 will rise by a third. UK death rates have more than doubled from 1.2 per 100,000 in 1971 to 2.6 per 100,000 in 2007.