Young People And Urban Dwellers Now More At Risk Of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer in Ireland is increasing among young people despite the fact that it can be prevented in 9 out of 10 cases according to the Irish Cancer Society at the launch of its 2016 SunSmart Campaign. A report from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) shows that the largest increase in non-melanoma skin cancer across all age groups from 1994 to 2011 was among young people.

Incidence figures for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, both types of non-melanoma skin cancer, increased by 72 per cent among females and 53 per cent among males between the ages of 0-34 years from 1994 to 2011. In 2013 alone, there were 112 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 79 cases of melanoma among those in the same age group in Ireland.

While the overall incidence in young people is lower than older age groups, the increasing incidence rate in the younger population is concerning as those who have received a skin cancer diagnosis have a higher risk of the disease occurring again. Protection of the skin in childhood and adolescence is vital in reducing the risk of skin cancer in later years. Skin cancer takes approximately 10-15 years to develop and children who get sunburnt in their formative years, also increase the risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer in adult life.

Kevin O’Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager at the Irish Cancer Society said: “Among young people in their twenties and thirties, we are seeing a developing pattern of rising Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer most likely from repeated sunburn during leisure activities. It’s important to remember the real dangers of even mild sunburn and tanning from recreational sun exposure and sunbeds. While the sunburn or the tan may fade, the damage remains and this can lead to skin cancer.”

Aside from the increase in young people, skin cancer trends from the NCRI also show that Irish people living in affluent urban settings now also have an increased risk of skin cancer compared to their rural counterparts. The incidence of basal cell carcinoma, a non-melanoma skin cancer, is 43 per cent higher for females and 52 per cent higher for males in urban than in rural populations.

O’Hagan continued: “The report suggests that increasing incidence in urban affluent settings could be due to lifestyle and related outdoor activities. These activities, such as playing outdoor sports or going on holidays abroad, can lead to irregular high levels of sun exposure. In contrast, those living in rural locations may be more likely to have a low level of exposure on a more ongoing basis, have a lower tendency to holiday abroad and have less access to sunbeds.”

The Irish Cancer Society is urging the public to enjoy outdoor activities but to be SunSmart from April to September. The Society’s SunSmart Code offers some simple steps to protect skin from harmful UV rays.

The SunSmart Code

  • SEEK SHADE: when UV rays are at their strongest – generally between 11am and 3pm.
  • COVER UP: by wearing a shirt with a collar and long shorts. Also wear a hat that gives shade to your face, neck and ears.
  • WEAR WRAPAROUND SUNGLASSES: make sure they give UV protection.
  • SLOP ON SUNSCREEN: Use sunscreen with SPF 15 (SPF30 for children) or higher and UVA protection 20 minutes before going outside and re-apply every two hours – more often if swimming or perspiring.
  • CHECK the UV index –
  • Keep babies under six months out of the sun.For more information on skin cancer or how to be SunSmart, visit or call the Irish Cancer Society’s Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700.

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