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Skin Cancer Awareness

Skin Cancer Awareness

May 25, 2020

Eve McInerney

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland. Fair Irish skin is particularly vulnerable to sun damage and subsequently skin cancer. Yet in most cases, it is preventable and early detection is essential.


The vast majority of skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), mainly from sunlight, although UV from artificial sources (e.g. sunbeds) can also cause skin cancer.

There are two main categories: non-melanoma skin cancer (comprising of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) and malignant melanoma. Of the different types of skin cancer, melanoma is not the most common but raises the greatest concern as it can spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes difficult to treat and can be fatal.

Melanoma is a type of cancer that arises in the pigment producing skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce a pigment called melanin that gives skin, eyes and hair their colour. The first sign of a melanoma is often a change in the colour of a mole (becoming either darker or lighter). Moles are normal noncancerous clusters of melanocytes and having 20-40 moles is not unusual. Although a melanoma can develop in an existing mole, it can also appear as a new growth that continues to change.

1. What are the most obvious warning signs of skin cancer?

  • A change in the appearance of the skin, such as a new growth, a sore that will not heal, a new and changing mole, or the change in appearance of an existing mole.
  • Use the “ABCDE rule” to look for some of the common signs of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. See chart below. Please note that not all skin cancers look like these descriptions, though. Point out anything you’re concerned about to your doctor.


2. How often should you check your skin for changes?

A. You should check your own skin at least once a month. Look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see.

3. How best should you protect your skin?

A. Wear SPF every single day, even on cloudy day and if you are simply indoors as UVA rays can still penetrate windows. So, protect your skin at all times and follow the 5 ‘Ss’ of sun safety below.


4. How can you reduce your risk of Melanoma?

You can reduce your risk of melanoma by avoiding overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or artificial sources (e.g. sunbeds). Fortunately, melanoma can be completely cured if it is identified and removed early.

5. What are the risk factors for Melanoma?

While anyone can develop a melanoma, several factors can increase the risk.

  • Occasional, intense sun exposure
  • Sunburn, particularly during childhood
  • Sunbed use
  • A previous melanoma or other non-melanoma skin cancer
  • Multiple large or unusual moles
  • Immunosuppression
  • Many moles (of different sizes, shapes and colours)
  • A fair complexion: pale skin, blue eyes

Please visit your doctor if you are concerned about any changes to your skin as early detection is essential.