Enjoy the weather and don’t let your skin sizzle in the sun

Sunnier weather and higher temperatures forecast for the week ahead are a welcome sign that summer is approaching. Good weather brings lots of opportunities for enjoying the outdoor life and the Public Health Agency (PHA) is advising everyone to take care in the sun.

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.¹ In 2009, 282 people in Northern Ireland had a malignant melanoma2.

Excessive ultra violet (UV)  exposure either from the sun or from using a sunbed is the main cause of skin cancer. Using a sunbed before the age of 35 can increase the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by up to 75%, especially among young people.3

Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, PHA, stressed “there is no such thing as a safe tan” and  added keeping safe from harmful rays is the best form of protection which will also help towards reducing the risk of developing skin cancer.

She said: “As we move towards warmer weather, 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. 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 added: “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.”

Further information

Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 90553663.

Notes to the editor

  1. Smith A, & Gavin A. Care of Patients with Malignant Melanoma of Skin in Northern Ireland 2006. N. Ireland Cancer Registry, 2008
  2. http://www.qub.ac.uk/researchcentres/nicr/CancerData/OnlineStatistics/MalignantMelanoma
  3. World Health Organization. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Exposure to artificial UV Radiation and Skin Cancer. WHO: 2006
  • The PHA’s Sunbed campaign was launched in August 2010. Its aim was to raise awareness of the health risks in using sunbeds.
  • The PHA is part of the Northern Ireland Melanoma Strategy Implementation Group, which works with partners across health, other sectors and voluntary organisations to raise awareness and promote care in the sun.
  • For further advice visit www.careinthesun.org