Skin cancer ‘set to treble over 20 years’ with men at greater risk

Cancer society: ‘Getting burned just once every two years can triple risk of melanoma’

The number of skin cancer cases is set to treble over the next 20 years with the incidence of melanoma increasing in men at a much greater rate than in women, the Irish Cancer Society has warned.

More than 13,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Ireland every year, it said. One in three of all cancers are of the skin variety, with 12,000 non-melanoma and 1,100 melanoma skin cancers diagnosed in Ireland each year, said the charity.

A quarter of skin cancer deaths in Ireland in 2018 were from the construction, outdoor and farming industry, according to Kevin O’Hagan, Irish Cancer Society Cancer prevention manager.

Mortality rates in men are 1½ times higher for melanoma and almost twice as higher for non-melanoma skin cancers compared to women, he said.


Outdoor workers receive up to eight times more exposure to UV radiation compared to indoor workers, with 71 deaths in Ireland in 2018 related to sun exposure at work.

“We would really encourage people to take extra care during the heatwave to protect their skin from sun burn,” said Mr O’Hagan.

“Getting burned just once every two years can triple your risk of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It’s especially important for parents to protect their children in the sun.”

Dr Bláithín Moriarty, consultant dermatologist at St Vincent’s hospital and UCD professor, said the State is experiencing “an incredible year-on-year increase in terms of skin cancer diagnosis”.

“We went from 11,000 cases in 2018 to 13,000 in 2020, while the total national numbers are expected to treble by 2040,” said Dr Moriarty.

“We’re seeing an exponential increase in skin cancer for a number of reasons, the same reasons that all the other cancers are increasing – such as people living longer. But also, this current generation of adults don’t just have the traditional occupation exposure, such as farmers, fishermen, we’ve also had the means to travel and get a lot more sun. The increase in skin cancer is totally disproportionate to the increase in most other cancers.

Social protections

“Most of the cancers we see, 85 per cent, in Ireland are UV induced; they’re induced by UV light. If we lived in the dark all our lives, which would be very sad, we would not see them, but it does mean that 85 per cent of them are preventable by appropriate photo protections.

“The increase is also probably cultural to some degree . . . the cult of having a perfect tan and a perfect body and perfect everything, the epidemic of sunbeds around the 1970s and 1980s, there’s lots of different factors.”

The Irish Cancer Society has advised the public to limit their time in the sun when UV is strongest, typically between the hours of 11am to 3pm.

“Cover skin as much as possible, wear long sleeves and clothes made from close-woven material that does not allow sunlight through,” it said.

“Apply sun screen with a sun protection factor of at least 30+ for adults and 50+ for children, with high UVA protection and water resistant. Reapply regularly, about one ounce of sun screen for adults. Apply sun screen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors. When outdoors, reapply sun screen approximately every two hours, or after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times