Melanoma can be treated – for instance by the early removal of a suspicious mole – but it is the most serious type of skin cancer, as it can spread to other organs in the body. The cancer can start in an existing mole or on normal-looking skin, and can occur in people who have no moles but have fair skin and freckles.

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Bataille added: “Let’s keep sunshine in the picture because it does make you age and causes you wrinkles – we have never denied that. But let’s move away from scaring people by saying they are going to die because they go in the sun.”

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “This study confirms Cancer Research UK’s advice that people with lots of moles – as well as those with red hair or fair skin – are more at risk of the most dangerous form of skin cancer and should take extra care in the sun.

“The research does not in any way contradict the bulk of scientific evidence, which shows that most skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet [UV] rays.”

She points out that malignant melanoma rates in the UK have more than quadrupled in the past 30 years – coinciding with a rise in “sun holidays” and the increased availability of artificial UV.

The scientists partly attribute the rising incidence of skin cancer to better screening picking up borderline changes in the skin that were unlikely to cause harm.