As the weather gets hotter, the lure of the beach is strong but before getting ready to bask in the sun, health experts are warning people to stop, think and take care.

The Government and Cancer Research UK have launched a nationwide SunSmart campaign, to make the public aware of how they can beat what is a largely a preventable form of cancer.

Dermatologists say lack of public awareness about skin cancer and failure by patients to recognise early symptoms are leading to needless deaths.

They are also concerned at how many Britons fail to use proper protection in the sun.

In the past five years, there have been 8,100 British deaths from malignant melanoma, compared to 4,900 in Australia.

Hospital services across the county have also noticed an increase in cases. For example, Worthing and Southlands Hospital's NHS Trust is holding six extra clinics each week at its two hospitals and treating an additional 400 patients per month.

The Worthing area has one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the country, due to its large elderly population, who are more vulnerable to the condition.

The SunSmart campaign aims to encourage more people to protect themselves and their children from the sun's harmful rays and so reduce their risk of skin cancer.

Dr Charlotte Proby, consultant dermatologist for Cancer Research UK, says: "Malignant melanoma is a preventable cancer. We need the public to be aware of what they can do to help prevent the disease.

"The SunSmart campaign aims to make it second nature to protect yourself in the sun. It is also important for people to be aware of their moles. All moles will change slowly over the years but people should be on the lookout for specific changes.

"The success of sun awareness campaigns in Australia is self evident. People there have been educated primarily to protect themselves in the sun.

"They are also taught to take notice of any unusual skin growths or changes in moles and to have them checked by a doctor. This means where there is disease, it is diagnosed early and can be successfully treated."

Posters, leaflets and information cards will be sent out to health professionals, doctors' surgeries and schools across Sussex as part of the campaign.

Although Australia has one-third the population of the UK, it has more cases of malignant melanoma. Yet each year, 600 more people die from the disease in Britain.

The most recent figures show, in one year, 7,850 cases of malignant melanoma were diagnosed in Australia and 5,990 in the UK.

The number of deaths in Australia is 1,000, compared to 1,600 in Britain per year.

Professor Robert Burton, senior adviser on cancer in Australia, said: "In Australia today, more than 90 per cent of melanomas diagnosed are curable because they are picked up early."

Richard Sullivan, head of clinical programmes at the charity, said: "We hope to mimic Australia's success in the UK. Only with sustained and continuous effort can we change people's attitudes towards the sun and start to reduce the incidence and mortality from skin cancer in the UK."

Health experts have drawn up a series of key messages as part of the campaign. These include staying in the shade between 11am and 3pm, making sure you never burn, always covering up with a T shirt, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, remembering to take extra care with children and using a high-factor sunscreen.

Also, if a person sees any changes in their moles or unusual skin growths they should see their GP immediately.

Nine out of ten skin cancers are easily treatable and unlikely to spread. They are called non-melanoma skin cancer and there are more than 59,000 new cases registered each year in the UK.

Malignant melanoma, which accounts for less than one in ten skin cancers, is the most serious type of the disease and may be fatal.

About 6,000 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Melanoma is the third most common cancer among people aged 15-39 and early detection is crucial for successful treatment.