MLAs focus on skin cancer

MLAs focus on skin cancer

L-R: Gerry McElwee Cancer Focus NI, Dr Miriam McCarthy Public Health Agency, Prof Terry Slevin, Cancer Council Western Australia

A world expert on skin cancer prevention has stressed to MLAs at Stormont the importance of investing money in prevention.

Professor Terry Slevin, the Education and Research Director at Cancer Council Western Australia, said that investment in prevention can also help save resources – in Australia every 1 AUS dollar spent on skin cancer prevention saves 2.70 AUS dollars on treatment.

“Treatment of skin cancer in Australia is now costing in excess of one billion dollars per year. That cost will continue to rise unless we ensure our prevention efforts persist.”

Investment in previous prevention campaigns in Australia is now showing benefits, with a slight reduction in incidence of melanoma in the 40-59 age group and greater reduction in incidence in the 0-39 age group.

Skin cancer is clearly preventable and we have been able to half the melanoma rate in the under 40s in Western Australia with a modest but persistent skin cancer prevention programme.

Prof Slevin added: “Commercial sunbeds for cosmetic tanning are now banned in Australia. The ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by sunbeds was found to be five to six times the intensity of the Australian midday summer sun and they are identified by the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer as a class one carcinogen. Recent legislation to control sunbed use in Northern Ireland makes good sense for the future health of local people.”

The professor was addressing MLAs attending the All Party Group on Cancer, which is chaired by Jo-Anne Dobson.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, Public Health Agency, who also presented along with Gerry McElwee, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, said: “Around 3,780 people in Northern Ireland develop skin cancer each year.”

“Incidence rates continue to rise year-on-year and the number of people developing the most serious form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, has trebled since the mid-1980s. That is why it is so important that we all take steps to help protect our skin from the sun.”
Mr McElwee said that people in Northern Ireland are taking greater notice of advice regarding sun exposure but there was still much work to do.

“We may not have Australia’s climate but, despite our unpredictable weather, we are still exposed to significant levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, even on cloudy or breezy days. The majority of our population has fair skin, which provides little protection against the sun, so over exposure to UV rays can cause serious skin damage over time and may lead to skin cancer.

“It is important for everyone to check their skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. If you notice any changes to a mole or patch of normal skin, tell your doctor, who may refer you for further assessment or treatment.”

If you are concerned about skin cancer you should talk to your GP. You can also call the Cancer Focus NI’s free information and support Nurseline on 0800 783 3339 or email one of the charity’s nurses on [email protected].

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