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Skin cancer trends and sunbed use

Kevin O’Hagan

Cancer Prevention Manager, Irish Cancer Society

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland. Almost 12,0001 people are diagnosed in this country every year.

Most cases of skin cancer are directly caused by UV rays from the sun, so it is really important that everyone protects their skin from sun damage as much as possible. Recently, we are seeing more men than women being diagnosed with skin cancer, even though it’s often seen, inaccurately, as a cancer more prominent in females.

The major risk factor when it comes to skin cancer is exposure to the sun and to UV rays. Past research has also pointed to the fact that skin cancer increasing among young people who are living in urban areas, which is likely a result of repeated sunburn during leisure activities2.

Skin cancer can take 10-15 years to develop

Protection of the skin in childhood and adolescence is vital in reducing the risk of skin cancer in later years. Skin cancer takes approximately 10-15 years to develop and young people who get sunburnt in their formative years also increase the risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer in adult life.

Sunbed use pre-35 increases the risk of melanoma by 75%

It is also alarming that people continue to use sunbeds regularly, given the clear link with skin cancer. Analysis shows that almost 90% of first-time sunbed users were under the age of 293. There is a 75% increased risk in melanoma when people begin tanning regularly before the age of 35.

According to research we carried out, two out of five sunbed operators are not complying with the requirement to ask customers their age, and many are making bookings for under 18s4. The Irish Cancer Society is concerned to see operators flouting sunbed legislation. We feel that greater resources must be made available so health officials who check for compliance and safety can carry out more inspections of sunbeds and sunbed operators, and that those found to be breaching the law are punished.

High UV levels – typically in summer – cause skin damage

Over the summer months, we all need to be sun smart in order to reduce our risk of skin cancer.  Many people think because we live in a country with a mild climate, that we don’t have to be as concerned about getting sunburnt. However, in Ireland, 90% of the days between April and September have a UV level high enough to cause skin damage.

How to stay smart in the sun:

  • Cover up when there’s no shade around.
  • Wear loose clothing and a cool, wide-brimmed hat.
  • Seek shade! It is really important to do this from 11am to 3pm when UV levels are at their strongest. 
  • Wear sunglasses. Whether you are young or old, make sure to get sunglasses that give UV protection.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF of 30 and UVA protection. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every two hours.

Finally, always remember to check your skin regularly. If you notice any changes at all, like a mole changing colour or shape, or a new growth or sore that doesn’t heal in a few weeks, please talk to your GP.

1 Cancer In Ireland 1994-2016 with Estimates For 2016-18: Annual Report of the National Cancer Registry
2 Deady.S, Sharp. L, Comber, H. (2014): Increasing skin cancer incidence in young, affluent, urban populations: a challenge for prevention.  Dublin: National Cancer Registry of Ireland.
3 Ipsos MRBI research, July 2017
4 Ipsos MRBI research, 2018

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