Written by Michelle Dolan, Health Promotion Manager, Irish Skin Foundation
Skin cancer on the rise
Skin cancer* is the most common cancer in Ireland and in pale/lightskinned populations worldwide ‘for whom sunburn is a risk factor’.
Generally, it is classified into two groups: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, and together, around 13,000 cases are diagnosed annually. This figure represents a sharp increase compared to 10 years ago and is projected to more than double again by 2045. That said, most skin cancers can be prevented; a person’s risk is mainly influenced by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) present in sunlight or artificial sources e.g. sunbeds, and skin pigmentation.
Fitzpatrick Classification of Skin Types
Susceptibility to skin damage from UV, is influenced by factors such as individual level of pigmentation (natural skin colour) and how the skin reacts to sunlight (whether it burns easily or tans). The variation in a person’s response to UV can be broadly classified on a scale – the Fitzpatrick Classification of Skin Types, which ranges from 1 (high risk) to 6 (low risk). People with dark skin or skin which darkens easily when exposed to sunlight and rarely if ever burns, tend to be comparatively less vulnerable to UV damage than people with lighter skin pigmentation.
Most people living in Ireland have pale/light skin – Fitzpatrick skin type 1 or 2. People with these skin types burn easily and tan poorly so are particularly vulnerable to UV damage and, as a result, are at a higher risk of skin cancer.
Cancer prevention offers the most cost effective, long term approach to cancer control and remains a cornerstone of the National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026. Consequently, public health efforts including Ireland’s first National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan 2019-2022, are directed towards encouraging those at risk to adopt sun-safe practices.
“In dermatology, almost half of the work we do refers to skin cancer, and yet it is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. The risk factors for developing skin cancers are from sun and UV exposure, which are avoidable risk factors. It’s important to educate the public that most people living in Ireland have fair skin, which burns easily, and tans poorly, so they are particularly vulnerable to UV damage and skin cancer and need to adjust their behaviours accordingly.” Prof Anne-Marie Tobin, Consultant Dermatologist, HSE Clinical Lead in Dermatology.
Protect your skin. Reduce your risk. Be SunSmart
The Irish Skin Foundation (ISF) is a proud partner of Healthy Ireland SunSmart, an initiative of the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan and the National Cancer Strategy. As part of its work this summer, the ISF is encouraging Everyone Under the Sun to be SunSmart, and to protect and inspect against skin cancer.
People can reduce their risk of skin cancer by avoiding overexposure to UV from sunlight or artificial sources (never ever use a sunbed!). Although there is a lower incidence of skin cancer in individuals with dark skin or skin which darkens easily when exposed to sunlight and rarely if ever burns, those that occur are often detected later at a more advanced/dangerous stage. If you are concerned about a change or growth on your skin, you should always see your doctor.
The ISF has worked closely with healthcare professionals and patients to create a trusted suite of independent and up-to-date digital and print information on skin cancer prevention, such as a new Everyone Under the Sun leaflet and updated Protect & Inspect against Melanoma Skin Cancer leaflet. The messaging throughout highlights key skin cancer preventative behaviours, with a particular focus on the four priority groups identified in the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan: children and young people, outdoor workers, those who participate in outdoor leisure activities and sunbed users. The SunSmart message encourages people to follow the SunSmart 5 S’s: Seek shade, Slip on clothing that covers skin, Slop on broadspectrum sunscreen, Slap on a wide-brimmed hat, Slide on sunglasses with UV protection.
Irish research during the COVID-19 pandemic
During summer 2021, the ISF, Ms Evelyn Power, Clinical Nurse Specialist in skin cancer and Dr Sinead Field, Consultant Dermatologist, both at University Hospital Limerick, in association with the Health Service Executive’s National Cancer Control Programme, University of Limerick Hospital Group (ULHG), and the Healthy Ireland SunSmart campaign, launched a series of five video animations, to encourage people to build SunSmart behaviours into their everyday routine, especially from April – September when the intensity of sunburn producing UV is greatest.
The videos played on visual display units throughout ULHG hospitals and hospital social media channels throughout the summer, as part of a research initiative to evaluate the effectiveness of these assets in raising awareness of sun protective behaviours amongst staff. The preliminary findings will be presented at the Irish Melanoma Forum in UCD on May 20th.
Dr Sinead Field, says of the launch of the video animation series, “Traditional health promotion campaigns have had to be reimagined in light of COVID-19 public health restrictions. Our aim in developing these animations was to bring the SunSmart messaging to life by creating a novel skin cancer awareness campaign in response to these changed circumstances and explore how digital health promotion initiatives can support all of us in adopting healthy sun protective behaviours.”
To view the SunSmart videos, leaflets and other SunSmart resources, visit the ISF website: www.irishskin.ie.
*Skin cancer is the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of skin cells. Skin cancers are generally divided into two main types: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Of the different types, melanoma is not the most common but raises the greatest concern as if not detected early, it can spread to other parts of the body where it becomes difficult to treat and can be fatal. Early identification and removal of a melanoma gives the best opportunity for cure.
The Irish Skin Foundation is a national charity dedicated to improving quality of life for people living with skin conditions. We promote skin health and the prevention of skin disease by offering support, independent information, engaging in advocacy, and raising awareness. The prevention of skin cancer caused by natural and artificial UV is the particular emphasis of the ISF’s work in the area of skin cancer.
For more information please log on to www.irishskin.ie
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