Skin Cancer Prevention Plan launched

Half of all adults got sunburned last year
  • Deborah Condon

The first Skin Cancer Prevention Plan for Ireland has been launched.

Over 11,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed here every year and this figure is projected to double by 2045.

The plan aims to highlight the fact that most skin cancers can be prevented and it has identified priority groups as children, outdoor workers, people who participate in outdoor leisure activities and sunbed users.

A survey carried out for the plan found that many people think that only hot sun causes skin cancer. However, ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main risk factor and it is emitted naturally from the sun, even in cloudy conditions. It also comes from artificial sources, such as sunbeds.

The survey also found that while almost three in four people use sunscreen, almost one in 10 follow no skin protection measures whatsoever.

Meanwhile, half of all adults experienced sunburn in the past year. And while almost two-thirds said that a suntan made them feel more healthy, more than half agreed that tanned skin is damaged skin.

"Most people living in Ireland have fair skin, the type that burns easily and tans poorly, so we are at high risk of UV damage. We need to change our habits and our culture of trying to get a tan and we need to get into the habit of protecting our skin every day, whatever the weather," commented the Minister of State for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne, at the launch of the plan.

She pointed out that exposure to UV radiation is particularly dangerous during childhood, and sunburn exposure during childhood greatly increases the risk of skin cancer later in life.

"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," said the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, at the launch.

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, the Irish Cancer Society, the Marie Keating Foundation and the Irish Skin Foundation.

"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," commented Dr Triona McCarthy, a consultant in public health medicine at the NCCP.

The plan was welcomed by the Irish Cancer Society, which called for it to be properly funded and resourced.

"The National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026 understood the need for a co-ordinated approach to tackling this major health issue, and the launch of this plan sees a key recommendation of the strategy being achieved. But how
effective the plan will be at preventing skin cancer and saving lives will depend on how well it is resourced.

"We all need to take skin cancer seriously. The Irish Cancer Society has long advocated for a national skin cancer prevention plan. We are now calling on the Government to ensure that funding and resources are made available so that it can be fully implemented," commented the society's cancer prevention manager, Kevin O'Hagan.

The main messages of the Skin Cancer Prevention Plan are:

-Know the UV index: When the UV index is three or above, you need to protect your skin. In Ireland, the UV index is usually three or above from April to September, even when it is cloudy. Stay safe by limiting time in the sun when UV is at its strongest, typically between the hours of 11am and 3pm

-Slip on clothing: Cover skin as much as possible. Wear long sleeves, collared t-shirts and clothes made from close-woven material that do not allow sunlight through

-Slop on broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen. Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30+ for adults and 50+ for children, with high UVA protection. This should be water resistant. Reapply regularly. However, remember that no sunscreen can provide 100% protection. It should be used alongside other protective measures such as clothing and shade

-Slap on a wide brimmed hat: Protect your face, ears and neck.

-Seek shade: Sit under the cover of trees to avoid direct sunlight. Use a sunshade on buggies and prams. Keep babies and children out of direct sunlight

-Slide on sunglasses: Guard your eyes from harm by wearing sunglasses with UV protection

And remember, do not deliberately try to get a suntan, avoid getting sunburned and never use a sunbed.


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