A sharp rise in skin cancer across Sussex has sparked a warning from experts about sunbathing and using sunbeds.
Figures from Cancer Research UK reveal 19 people in every 100,000 in Sussex, Kent and Surrey are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every year compared to just nine per 100,000 in the early 1990s.
This works out to around 2,000 patients a year, which is significantly higher than the 750 diagnosed two decades ago.
Malignant melanoma is now the fifth most common cancer in the UK.
The rise is partly down to an explosion in package holidays to Europe dating from the late 60s and the increasing popularity of the “must-have” tan often achieved only after damaging sunburn.
The boom in sunbed use has also helped to fuel the increase and better detection methods may also have contributed to the increase in the number of people diagnosed.
Loti Jackson, from Lindfield, was diagnosed in 2012.
She said: “I had a couple of moles I was concerned about and I knew I should get them checked out.
“One was nothing to worry about, but the other one, on the side of my face, needed monitoring. Three months later I went back for a check and within a week I was on the operating table. It was horrible being told I had cancer.”
Ms Jackson, 28, also needed a second operation so doctors could make a wider incision to remove any cancerous cells which had spread.
She said: “I knew I would be left with a three-inch scar from my eye to my jaw line. The surgeon was brutally honest and it was hard to hear. Luckily he did a really good job and when I'm wearing make up the scar is barely visible.”
Ms Jackson, a PA for a specialist recruitment company, had used sunbeds a couple of times when she was a teenager.
She said: “I was really lucky my cancer was caught so early. I have vowed to try to make people aware of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and urge them not to spend time in the sun unprotected and never to use sunbeds. I don’t understand why people would take the risk – it’s not worth it. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy.”
A Cancer Research UK spokeswoman said: “We know overexposure to UV rays from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer.
“This means, in many cases, the disease can be prevented, so it’s essential to get into good sun safety habits, whether at home or abroad.
“By following some simple tips and taking care not to burn – people can enjoy the sun much more safely this summer.
“One of the best ways people can reduce their risk of malignant melanoma is to avoid getting sunburn. We know that those with the highest risk of the disease include people with pale skin, lots of moles or freckles, a history of sunburn or a family history of the disease.
For more sun safety information, please visit www.sunsmart.org.uk.