Ireland’s first skin cancer prevention plan

Ireland’s first skin cancer prevention plan aims at tackling the most common type of cancer in Ireland, with over 11,000 cases of diagnosed each year and the number of cases projected to double by 2045.

The plan, launched by Health Minister, Simon Harris and Minister of State for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne, focuses on the fact that most skin cancers could be prevented. It addresses awareness of skin cancer prevention and has identified the priority groups as children, outdoor workers, those who participate in outdoor leisure activities and sunbed users.

Minister Harris said: “Skin cancer is something that we don’t always think of when we hear that someone has been diagnosed with cancer but in fact it is the most common type of cancer in Ireland today with over 11,000 cases diagnosed each year.

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“With half of all Irish adults getting sunburned last year we need a radical rethink on how we think about the sun and tanning. What people really need to know is that most skin cancers could be prevented and the behaviours that we can adopt to protect our skin and our children’s skin.”

The plan was developed by the Department of Health in conjunction with the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) and key stakeholders including other Government Departments and national organisations representing priority groups, including the Irish Cancer Society, Marie Keating Foundation, the Irish Skin Foundation and Breakthrough Cancer Research.

Minister Harris added, “Prevention is a cornerstone of our National Cancer Strategy as it offers the most cost effective, long term approach for cancer control.

“The partnership approach of Healthy Ireland bringing all the key players together was critical to developing this plan for skin cancer and will be key to rolling out the plan to reverse the rising incidence of skin cancer and ultimately saving lives.”

Research conducted for the plan showed that often people think it is a hot sun that causes skin cancer but in fact ultraviolet radiation UV is the main risk factor responsible for skin cancers.

UV is emitted naturally from the sun even in cloudy conditions and also comes from artificial sources such as sunbeds. By adopting skin protective habits, the majority of skin cancers caused by harmful UV exposure could be prevented.

“Exposure to UV radiation during childhood is particularly harmful and we know that sunburn in childhood significantly increases the risk of melanoma later in life. So, protecting skin during childhood is extremely important.

“If we’re out in the sun between the hours of 11 and 3pm we need to wear a high factor sun protection, at least 30 for adults and 50 for children, cover up with long sleeved clothes, wear sun hats and sunglasses or stay out of the sun.”

Dr Triona McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine from the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) said: “Over 1,000 people in Ireland are diagnosed with melanoma each year and over 10,000 with non-melanoma skin cancer. These numbers are predicted to rise further but much can be done to reverse this trend. This Skin Cancer Prevention Plan outlines the actions we can take to create an environment where protection of our skin from excess UV radiation is the norm.”

Speaking at the launch, Evelyn Cusack, Head of Forecasting in Met Eireann said: “Met Eireann actively supports the new Skin Cancer Prevention Plan and look forward to working with all partners in its implementation. We publish a daily UV index from April to September. People should become familiar with the index. Even on cloudy summer days the UV index can be quite high. Peak burn times are between 11am and 3pm so it’s particularly important that people take extra precautions then.’

KEY FINDINGS FROM SKIN CANCER PREVENTION SURVEY conducted by NCCP in 2019

  • 1,051 survey responses, 43% male, 57% female

Sun Protective Behaviours

  • Sunscreen is the most commonly used sun protective behaviour, used by almost two-thirds (73%) of respondents
  • Almost one in ten respondents (9%) take no skin protection measures

Sunburn

  • 50% of all adults experienced sunburn in the past year.
  • More than a third of males (34%) have experienced sunburn while working outdoors compared to a fifth of females (21%)
  • Almost a third of respondents (31%) have experienced sunburn following outdoor sport or recreational activities

Opinion

  • 93% of respondents agree that protecting their skin would reduce their risk of skin cancer
  • Almost two thirds (64%) of respondents felt that a suntan makes them feel more healthy.
  • More females than males (65% vs 55%) agreed that a suntan makes them feel more attractive
  • Similarly more females than males (60 vs 51%) agreed than a suntan makes them feel more confident
  • Just over half of respondents (52%) agree than tanned skin is damaged skin

Risk Awareness

  • Three quarters (76%) of respondents are aware of the risk of skin cancer from sunbeds. This is higher among females (80%) compared to males (71%)

Press and Communications Office
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Department of Health

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