Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Ireland. Over 11,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in Ireland each year. This figure is expected to over double by 2045. Thankfully, most skin cancers are preventable by protecting your skin from UV (ultraviolet) radiation, the main risk factor.
The sun emits UV radiation naturally and UV is also emitted from artificial sources, such as sunbeds. UV damages DNA, which leads to skin cancer. Most people living in Ireland have fair skin, the type which burns easily and tans poorly, so we have a high risk of UV damage.
In Ireland, UV is strongest between April to September – an important fact to remember as we spend more time outdoors over the summer. If you work outdoors for example, you will be exposed to 2-3 times higher amounts of UV from the sun than people who work indoors, and so have a higher risk of developing a skin cancer. Whether you work in farming, construction, fishery, gardening, postal, defence forces, tourism or any other job where you are outdoors, protect your skin from UV rays to reduce your risk of skin cancer. The same goes for golfers, walkers, hikers, surfers, cyclists, and park-goers – we all need to protect our skin from UV rays.
Exposure to UV causing sunburn is the most damaging, but long term exposure even without burning also significantly increases the risk of skin cancer. For this reason, outdoor workers are a priority group for skin cancer prevention, recognised by the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan.
Reduce your risk of skin cancer by protecting your skin. Here are 10 Top Tips from the experts:
1. The sun does not need to feel hot to need to protect your skin: don’t be fooled by mild temperature.
2. The UV index tells you the strength of the sun. When it is 3 or above, protect your skin, even when it is cloudy. You can check today’s UV index here: www.met.ie/uv-index.
3. 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, and water resistant. Reapply regularly. No sunscreen can provide 100% protection, it should be used alongside other protective measures such as clothing and shade.
4. Slide on Sunglasses: Guard your eyes from harm by wearing sunglasses with UV protection.
5. Stay safe by limiting time in the midday sun when UV is strongest, typically between the hours of 11:00am-3:00pm.
6. Seek shade: use a sunshade on prams and try to sit in shade.
7. Slip on Clothing: Cover skin as much as possible, wear long sleeves, collared t-shirts, clothes made from close-woven material that does not allow sunlight through. This is very important for outdoor workers, who may not always be able to work in the shade.
8. Slap on a Wide Brimmed Hat: Protect your face, ears and neck.
9. Babies and children are particularly vulnerable to sun exposure, keep babies and children out of direct sunlight.
10. Do not try to get a suntan. Avoid getting a sunburn and never, ever, use a sunbed. People who use sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75 per cent.
International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group. The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other skin cancers: a systematic review. Int J Cancer 2006; 120: 1116–22
Dr Triona McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, explains how UV rays affect our skin:
“As with many cancers, skin cancer develops when cells are damaged and grow uncontrollably. Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, even on cloudy days, or from artificial sources like sunbeds is the most common cause of skin cancer. Overall, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Ireland with over 11,000 cases of skin cancer diagnosed annually.
“The strength of UV radiation in sunlight is measured using the UV index. It is more likely to cause skin damage when it is it at 3 or above, so you should take particular effort to protect your skin on those days. It is important to know that UV is in sunlight, and can cause damage even when the weather doesn’t feel warm and also can damage your skin even on a cloudy day. You can check the daily UV atwww.met.ie/uv-index. A good guide is that UV index in Ireland is highest between April to September, so you should act to protect your skin during those months.”
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