ClinicalClinical FeaturesDermatology

Skin Cancer in Ireland

Written by Bernie Carter, Assistant Director of Nursing Services, Marie Keating Foundation

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland. Almost 13,000 cases are diagnosed each year. The National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) expects this number to double by 2040. It accounts for over one-third of all cancers diagnosed annually. This is twice the number of 10 years ago. Yet most skin cancers could be prevented.

Skin cancer is generally classified into two groups: Melanoma and Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). Melanoma is the least common but the most serious form of skin cancer because it is more likely to spread (metastasise) from the skin to other parts of the body than other types of skin cancer. It accounts for over 1,156 cases each year in Ireland. It is the 5th most common cancer in Ireland after non-melanoma skin and Ireland has one of the highest mortality rates from melanoma in Europe. When detected early, it has a high 5-year survival rate of 93%. Melanoma starts in cells in the skin called melanocytes. Melanocytes make a pigment called melanin. This gives skin its natural colour. This pigment helps to protect the body from ultraviolet light (UV radiation) from the sun. Melanoma may occur at any age, but it is more common in older people. In comparison to most other cancer types, it is also quite common in younger people.

The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. This can occur anywhere on the body, but the most commonly affected areas are the back in men and the legs in women.

Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is much more common but less aggressive than melanoma skin cancer. It slowly progresses over months or years and accounts for 11,763 cases each year in Ireland. It includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinoma is a form of skin cancer that usually appears on skin that is regularly exposed to the sun. The signifier for this form of skin cancer is normally a pearly, or waxy bump, a flat skin coloured or brown skin lesion or blemish as well as a bleeding scab that heals and returns.

Squamous cell carcinoma similarly appears on skin that receives regular sun light such as the face, ears and hands. Squamous cell usually presents as a firm red nodule, or pimple looking lesions, as well as a flat lump with a scaly or crusted surface.

This is why being aware of your skin, and seeing your GP when you notice a change is so important. When it comes to melanoma, most moles are harmless, but in rare cases they can develop into an aggressive form of skin cancer called malignant melanoma.

The ABCDE checklist can help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma. Visit spotthedifference/ to learn how to check your mole for changes such as changes in the shape, border, colour or size of a mole.

If you are concerned about a change in your skin, a new mole or a change in an existing mole, or any of the above symptoms sounds familiar, speak to your GP.

90% of skin cancers are caused by Ultra Violet (UV) rays from the sun or sunbeds- which means that they are preventable. UV rays are a source of energy that is released naturally by the sun.

UV rays are invisible to the naked eye and cannot be felt on the skin. This is why taking the necessary precautions to protect your skin before leaving the house is essential.

UV rays can also penetrate the clouds on less sunny days. By checking the UV index, and taking the appropriate action, you can enjoy time spent outside safely all year round, without putting your skin at risk. Visit Met Eireann to learn more about the UV index – UV Index – Met Éireann – The Irish Meteorological Service

Protect your skin and that of your children by following the SunSmart code.

The 5 S’s of the SunSmart code are as follows:

  1. Seek Shade if spending time outdoor during the period of 11am to 3pm, when the sun is at its strongest. Always use a sun shade on a child’s buggy
  2. Slip on some Clothes made from close woven material that covers your skin such as long sleeved cotton shirts and lightweight trousers.
  3. Slap on a wide brimmed hat to protect exposed skin such as your face, neck and ears from the sun’s harmful rays
  4. Slide on sunglasses with UV protection to shield your eyes from UV rays to protect yourself from cancer and chronic conditions such as cataracts.
  5. Slop on sunscreen with a good UV rating, an SPF of 30+ for adults and 50+ for children, with high UVA protection and water resistant. Apply regularly and thoroughly throughout the day.

When it comes to skin cancer information, prevention and early detection are key. The Marie Keating Foundation’s #TalkingCancer podcast series explores the ins and outs of a melanoma skin cancer journey, from prevention and early detection to treatment and life with incurable melanoma.

Tune in today, free of charge wherever you listen to podcasts, and hear conversations from experts in the field of skin cancer in Ireland, sharing what they want you to know this summer.

To listen to the full eight part series today, visit www.

For all other information and education around skin cancer prevention, information, and support, visit

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