Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Ireland but it also the most preventable.  Currently, more than 11,000 people are diagnosed with the disease every year and cases have doubled in the last 10 years.  Skin cancer is divided into two types, non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) and melanoma.

Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common and include basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.  They are less aggressive cancers which progress slowly over months or years and have very high survival rates.

Melanomas are diagnosed less often but still more than 1,000 times a year.  This is a more invasive cancer and is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body.  Survival rates depend on the stage of disease at diagnosis.  Ireland has the lowest survival rate for melanoma in Europe.

To achieve 100% survival we need better UV awareness and protection and more skin cancer treatments.

Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to UV exposure. Children have lower concentrations of the protective skin pigment melanin and thinner skin, therefore are more susceptible to the dangers of UV. Severe sunburn during childhood (more than three instances before the age of twenty) is associated with a two to four times higher risk of developing melanoma in later life.

Turning pink? Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. Yet it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure. So, if your child’s skin looks “a little pink” today, it may be burned tomorrow morning. To prevent further burning, get your child out of the sun.

Tan? There’s no other way to say it — tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the colour of your child’s skin after time outside — whether sunburn or suntan — indicates damage from UV rays.

Cool and cloudy? Children still need protection. UV rays, not the temperature, do the damage. Clouds do not block UV rays, they filter them — and sometimes only slightly.

Plan Ahead: Kids often get sunburned when they are outdoors unprotected for longer than expected. Remember to plan ahead, and keep sun protection handy—in your car, bag, or child’s backpack. So be SunSmart but remember sunscreen is your last line of defense.

And What if Defense Doesn’t Work?

Finding melanoma at an early stage is critical; early detection can vastly increase your chances for survival.

Look for anything new, changing or unusual on both sun-exposed and sun-protected areas of the body. Melanomas most commonly appear on the legs of women, and the number one place they develop on men is the trunk. However, melanomas can arise anywhere on the skin, even in areas where the sun doesn’t shine, like between the toes,  under nails, soles of feet etc.

Most moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are harmless – but not always. The ABCDEs can help you detect melanoma.  The first five letters of the alphabet are a guide to help you recognize the warning signs of melanoma.

A is for Asymmetry. Most melanomas are asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves don’t match, so it looks different from a round to oval and symmetrical common mole.

B is for Border. Melanoma borders tend to be uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges, while common moles tend to have smoother, more even borders.

C is for Colour. Multiple colours are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colours red, white or blue may also appear.

D is for Diameter or Dark. While it’s ideal to detect a melanoma when it is small, it’s a warning sign if a lesion is the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm in diameter) or larger. Some experts say it is also important to look for any lesion, no matter what size, that is darker than others.

E is for Evolving. Any change in size, shape, colour or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.

If you notice these warning signs, or anything new, changing or unusual on your skin contact your GP quickly.