Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is on the rise among Canadian men and women, but it is also one of the most preventable forms, according to a new report.

The Canadian Cancer Society’s annual statistics report shows skin cancer rates in the past two decades have increased, especially among those over 50. Yet it’s the risky trends among younger people that the society is worried about.

"More Canadians are spending time out in the sun and protecting themselves less than they used to," said Prithwish De, an epidemiologist with the Canadian Cancer Society in Toronto.

"It's the younger Canadians under the age of 30, specifically between the ages of 16 and 24, that tend to spend the most time out in the sun without protecting themselves very much and also that's the same age group that tends to use indoor tanning the most."

A single, blistering sunburn before the age of 20 can double a person’s chance of developing melanoma. Research also suggests that people who first start using indoor tanning beds before the age of 65 are also at higher risk.

British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. have tanning bed legislation to help protect young people.

The society expects over 80,000 skin cancer cases in Canada this year — nearly the same number of cases of the top four cancers combined, namely lung, breast, prostate and colorectal.

Dr. Asif Pirani is a reconstructive plastic surgeon in Toronto who treats patients with skin cancer.

"Skin cancer can be very serious and yet it can be very easily prevented with sun-smart prevention techniques," Pirani said.

If you are going to be out in the sun for more than 30 minutes, apply sunscreen over exposed skin at least 20 minutes before heading out, he advised.

Other sun safe strategies include:

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wear sunglasses and lip balm.
  • Plan outdoor activities before 11 a.m. and after 4 p.m. when the sun is not at its strongest or at times of the day when the UV Index is 3 or less.
  • Seek shade.
  • Don’t use indoor tanning beds.

Overall, an estimated 191,300 new cases of cancer and 76,600 deaths from cancer are expected to occur in Canada this year. Rates of the disease are generally stabilizing for new cases and declining for deaths, the society said.

Four types of cancer — lung, breast, colorectal and prostate — account for 52 per cent of newly diagnosed cancers.

The annual report was prepared in partnership between the Canadian Cancer Society, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Statistics Canada and provincial and territorial cancer registries.


With files from CBC's Kas Roussy