Bernie Carter MSc
Senior Oncology Nurse, Assistant Director of Nursing, Marie Keating Foundation
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland, yet arguably the most preventable. As we head into winter, many things hibernate — but skin cancer does not.
It is as important to protect your skin during the winter as much as the summer. As altitude increases, so does skin cancer risk. The strength of solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation may be less in winter, but it still increases your overall skin cancer risk — as does sunbed use.
Skin cancer in Ireland
Each year, almost 13,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in Ireland. Nine out of every ten skin cancers are caused by UV rays from the sun or sunbeds.
What is skin cancer?
There are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer is much more common but less aggressive than melanoma skin cancer. It accounts for 11,763 cases, yearly, in Ireland.
Nine out of every ten skin cancers are caused
by UV rays from the sun or sunbeds.
Melanoma skin cancer
Melanoma is the least common but most serious form of skin cancer. The most common sign is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. The majority (70.9%) of melanomas develop from new growths, and only a minority (29.1%) arise from an existing mole or nevus. Everyone needs to check their skin for new moles and not just changes to existing moles.
Use the ABCDE guide to check mole changes
Asymmetry – If you draw a line down the centre of your mole, is it larger on one side?
Border – Are the borders of your mole uneven, jagged or notched?
Colour – Has your mole changed colour over time, or does it contain different colours?
Diameter – Is the circumference of your mole larger than the top of a rubber on a pencil (larger than 6mm)? However, melanomas can be smaller.
Evolving – Do you notice any changes within or around your mole (eg. height or appearance)?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation
Exposure to UV radiation is the main risk factor for skin cancer. It is emitted from the sun, sunbeds and sun lamps. You can’t feel UV rays — the heat from the sun comes from infrared rays, which can’t burn you. It’s the sun’s UV rays rather than the sun’s heat which causes the skin to burn or tan. Therefore, it does not have to be sunny for UV rays to damage the skin. When the UV index is three or above, you must protect your skin.