A CAMPAIGN launches in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall today (Monday, June 16) to raise awareness of skin cancer and emphasise that a change to a mole isn’t the only sign of the disease.

The number of new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the three counties, given the size of the population, is double the England average.

In addition, latest figures reveal that of those in the area diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious form of the disease, one in four (25%) do not survive beyond five years.

The campaign, from Public Health England, is the latest to launch under the Be Clear on Cancer banner. Local GPs appear in the adverts.

There were over 800 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset in 2012, with over 100 people dying from the disease.

Early diagnosis is crucial and means treatment is more likely to be successful.

Professor Debra Lapthorne, Centre Director of the Devon, Cornwall and Somerset PHE Centre, said: “Statistics show that those living in the Devon, Cornwall and Somerset area are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer compared to the rest of England.

"There could be any number of reasons for this but it’s likely to be due to a high number of outdoor jobs and leisure pursuits as well as an older population.

"We are committed to raising awareness of the key signs of the disease, to encourage earlier diagnosis, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

“The campaign message is clear, if you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your skin, you should visit your doctor.”

Certain people are more at risk of getting skin cancer but knowledge of some of these risks is low.

Only one in three (38%) in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset know that people with lots of moles and freckles are more likely to get skin cancer and similarly only 32% are aware that a family history of skin cancer increases risk.

Of those diagnosed with melanoma in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, four in five are over the age of 50, making this the target age group for the campaign.

The campaign also focuses on men in the area, who are more likely to die from the disease than women.

Disturbingly, men are much less worried about developing the disease, with only one in three (34%) saying they are worried compared with over half of women (56%).

Dr Adrian Burt, a GP in Somerset who appears in the campaign adverts, said: “The earlier skin cancer is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be.

"Your doctor will be aware of the signs, and will be able to assess whether further investigation is needed. So if you’re aware of any unusual or persistent changes to your skin, go to your GP.”

Morwenna Banks, British comedy actress who was born in Cornwall, said: "Growing up in Cornwall, I learned that the sun could burn your skin.

"I later learned that childhood sunburn could become adult skin damage.

"And now we know that you become increasingly vulnerable to skin cancer with age.

"I would urge everyone to learn what to look for. Know the warning signs - a change to a mole isn’t the only one.

"Any unusual changes to your skin should be noted – and if in doubt take swift action. See your GP. Be Clear on Cancer."

Dr Sarah Jarvis, TV and radio doctor who grew up in Somerset, said: “People are often reluctant to bother their doctor for things they consider minor ailments, but changes to your skin could be a sign of a more serious problem.

"The most common sign of skin cancer is a change to a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin.

"It’s important to get to know what your skin looks like normally, so that you notice any unusual or persistent changes. If you do, tell your doctor.”

The six-week campaign, which starts today, will see adverts running on radio and in the press in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

There will also be face-to-face events taking place in shopping centres in the area.

For more information on the signs of skin cancer, visit the NHS - skin cancer link on this story.