Simple ways to cut your risk of skin cancer
Dermatology Skin cancer is on the increase, especially among young people and city-dwellers, but nine out of ten cases are preventable. Here's how to reduce your risk.
Ireland's young people and urban dwellers are increasingly falling prey to skin cancers. Why?
“The main reason is skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun and the increased use of sun-beds,” says Kevin O'Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager at the Irish Cancer Society. “Young people and those in cities are more likely to have access to sun-beds and to be able to afford holidays in the sun.”
Research suggests that anyone who has ever used a sun-bed increases their risk of developing skin cancer by 20%. For under 34s, it is 60%.
Skin cancer is Ireland's most common cancer with over 10,000 new cases in 2013. “The overall incidence of all types of skin cancer in Ireland has risen by 81% since records began in 1994,” says O'Hagan. Among people in affluent urban settings, the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma, a non-melanoma skin cancer, is 52% higher in men and 43% higher in women, compared to those in rural areas.
People in the countryside are likely to get regular lower-level sun exposure - less risky than sudden high-level exposure on holidays.
Ireland has the highest incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer in Europe and a high rate of melanomas – the more serious form. Skin cancer caused 167 deaths in Ireland in 2014. Yet nine out of ten cases can be prevented.
“Ireland often has cloudy skies so people think they do not need to take action to prevent UV exposure,” says O'Hagan, “but on 90% of days between April and September UV levels are high enough to cause skin damage. Even on cloudy days 30-40% of UV rays can penetrate the cloud cover.”
Moreover 75% of people in Ireland have fair skin and are prone to burning.
Symptoms of non-melanoma cancers include small lumps or flat red spots on the skin, ulcers that do not readily heal, rough scaly patches, new growths or changes to moles. Signs of the more serious melanomas, which make up 8% of skin cancers, include a new mole or changes in the shape, size or colour of an existing mole. Spotted early, it is very treatable.
The Irish Cancer Society recommends people stick to the SunSmart Code from April to September. That means seeking shade between 11am and 3pm, wearing a hat that shades the face, neck and ears, and clothes that cover the arms, legs and neck, and wraparound sunglasses. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 (30 for children), 20 minutes before sun exposure and every two hours. Keep babies under six months out of the sun. Check the UV index at www.cancer.ie/uvindex.