In Northern Ireland we are not used to hot summers, but even on cloudy days the sun can still burn. The Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding people this summer to take care in the sun, with skin cancer now the most prevalent form of cancer here.
When out for the day, whether taking in the Olympics on an outdoor screen or doing the gardening, it is easy to forget to be sun aware, especially with Northern Ireland’s changeable weather. During the summer months the sun is at its strongest and even on cloudy days it can still cause damage.
Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, PHA, explained: “Many people may not be aware that skin cancer is the number one cancer in Northern Ireland and accounts for more than a quarter of all people diagnosed with the disease.
“Research shows that over recent years there has been an increase in cases of malignant melanoma, the least common but most serious form of skin cancer, with cases nearly trebling in 25 years. In 2010, 273 people in Northern Ireland had a malignant melanoma. Over the period 1993-2010, the incidence rates of malignant melanoma skin cancer increased in both men and women, but much faster in men than in women.”
Excessive ultra violet (UV) exposure either from the sun or from using a sunbed is the main cause of skin cancer.
Dr McCarthy continued: “Sun damage doesn't just happen when you're on holiday in the sun. It can happen when you’re not expecting it, for example when you go for a walk or sit in your garden.
“It’s important to remember the ‘care in the sun’ messages. Sunburn, especially in childhood, increases the risk of skin cancer. The damage caused by the sun may seem trivial in the short term, but it can accumulate and may lead to skin cancer.
"Everyone is at risk of sun damage, but certain groups are particularly at risk, including those with fair hair and complexions, babies and children, outdoor workers and people with a family history of skin cancer. Research has also shown incidence rates in men are increasing much faster. This is most likely due to them not bothering to take care in the sun. It is therefore vitally important that all of us take the necessary steps to protect ourselves in the sun and actively reduce the risks of skin cancer.”
There are a number of simple steps that will protect against harmful rays:
- Use a sun screen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more, to include UVA and UVB protection, and re-apply every couple of hours;
- Wear loose fitting clothes and a hat to cover your face;
- Where possible, seek shade when the sun is at its strongest between the hours of 11am and 3pm;
- Take extra care to protect babies and children from the sun;
- Reduce the time you are actually exposed to the sun – this will significantly reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Dr McCarthy concluded: “It’s also important for everyone to examine their skin regularly and to watch for early signs, as well as being aware of any changes to your skin. If you notice a lump, a sore which does not heal, a mole which changes shape, size, colour or bleeds easily, or if you have any concerns, seek advice from your GP.”
Notes to the editor
Cancer Incidence and Survival in Northern Ireland 2006 – 2010 http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/FileStore/PDF/Filetoupload,297948,en.pdf