Northern Ireland public ignoring rising skin cancer risks

Northern Ireland public ignoring rising skin cancer risks

  • National charity Melanoma Focus issues warning after new survey data shows that 32% of UK adults and 34% of people in Northern Ireland don’t use sunscreen despite most (64%) burning at least once per year. 
  • Melanoma is on the rise in the UK and is the most serious form of skin cancer.
  • Survey also finds that 27% of people living in Northern Ireland have used sunbeds, a known cause of melanoma. 

Experts have voiced concerns in response to the new data released today by the charity Melanoma Focus which shows that 32% of British and 34% of people in Northern Ireland reported rarely or never using sunscreen when in the UK and only 12% of Northern Irish people saying that they always use it. 

Male respondents were particularly reluctant to use sunscreen with 40% saying they rarely or never use it in the UK and only 8% reporting always using it. 

When asked why they don’t use sunscreen the majority (39%) said it’s because they don’t expect to burn. This is despite 52% of all respondents and 64% of people in Northern Ireland reporting that they got sunburned at least once per year. 

Melanoma skin cancer is a serious and potentially fatal condition, yet people in the UK are often ignoring the dangers posed by prolonged exposure to the UV rays. 

1 in 36 men and 1 in 47 women in the UK will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime. It is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is in the top five most commonly diagnosed cancers in the UK, killing 2,333 people per year.[1] Yet 86% of melanomas are preventable.[2]

Melanoma skin cancer is becoming more common in the UK with around 16,700 new cases every year (46 every day).[3] 

Recent research has shown that there has been a huge increase in the number of people in the UK being diagnosed with melanoma, despite efforts to educate the public on the risks. Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have increased by around a third (32%) in the UK. Rates in females have increased by more than a quarter (27%), and rates in males have increased by almost two-fifths (38%). It is expected to continue to rise.[5]

The vast majority (86%) of melanoma skin cancer is preventable yet the new data shows that as well as many not wearing sunscreen, a third of people in Northern Ireland (31%) think that a sunscreen below SPF 30 is the minimum needed for skin protection and 20% said they didn’t know what the minimum was. 

The reported use of sunbeds is also a serious concern. It is estimated that in the UK about 100 people die each year from melanomas that are due to sunbed use.[6]

The survey found that 27% of people in Northern Ireland have used sunbeds despite 82% of all respondents knowing that they increase the risk of skin cancer. Sunbed use was highest among British 26-35 year olds at 40%.

Susanna Daniels, CEO of Melanoma Focus, said:

About seven people die from melanoma every day in the UK and more people die from melanoma in the UK than in Australia. The fact that people are continuing to ignore the warnings and not take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from skin cancer is concerning. 

“About 9 in 10 melanoma skin cancer cases are preventable and it is vital that people take the warnings about the dangers of excessive sun exposure and the dangers of sunbed use seriously.

“Sunbeds can be incredibly dangerous and it’s concerning that their use is so popular in the UK. The best way to protect yourself from the dangers of sunbeds is to avoid them altogether and use high-factor sun protection, along with seeking shade and wearing a hat when in the sun.”

Professor Catherine Harwood, Consultant Dermatologist at Barts Health and Trustee at Melanoma Focus, said:

“The survey results clearly show that many people in the UK don’t always appreciate how dangerous sunburn can be. Sun exposure, particularly when young, can cause permanent DNA damage in the skin making it more likely for skin cancers like melanoma to develop. 

“Skin protection should be taken seriously, especially by those with lighter skin tones. During the summer, whether in the UK or abroad, I recommend wearing a combined UVA and UVB sunscreen of SPF 30 or above and avoiding the sun in the middle of the day.

“Sunbeds or tanning beds are also a serious issue as they emit a type of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can damage the DNA of skin cells, leading to an increased risk of skin cancer. Additionally, people who use tanning beds are more likely to get sunburns, which can further damage the skin.”


[3]16,744 new cases of melanoma skin cancer each year, 2016-2018 average, UK. 
[5] It is estimated that in the UK about 100 people die each year from melanomas that are due to sunbed use: