Most skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet (UV) light damaging the DNA in skin cells. The main source of UV light is sunlight.
Sunlight contains 3 types of UV light:
- ultraviolet A (UVA)
- ultraviolet B (UVB)
- ultraviolet C (UVC)
UVA and UVB damage skin over time, making it more likely for skin cancers to develop. UVC is filtered out by the atmosphere so does not harm our skin.
Artificial sources of UV light, such as sunlamps and tanning beds, also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
Who is at risk of getting non-melanoma skin cancer
You are at a higher risk of getting non-melanoma skin cancer if you:
- had non-melanoma skin cancer before
- have fair skin that does not tan easily
- got sunburnt often over years
- were in the sun a lot over years - for example, an outdoor worker or you lived in a sunny country
- have many moles or freckles
- have irregular-shaped moles
- used sunlamps and sunbeds
- take medicine that suppresses your immune system
- have a condition that suppresses your immune system, such as HIV
- are 65 or older
- have a family history of skin cancer
In most cases, non-melanoma skin cancer does not run in families. But research shows that in some families more people than usual get it.
Preventing non-melanoma skin cancer
It's not always possible to prevent non-melanoma skin cancer. But you can reduce your risk of getting it.
What you can do to reduce your risk
Follow the SunSmart 5S rule: slip, slop, slap, seek and slide
- Slip on clothes that covers your skin such as long sleeves and collared t-shirts.
- Slop on broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen on exposed skin, using factor 30+ for adults, 50+ for children and reapply regularly.
- Slap on a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, ears and neck.
- Slide on wraparound sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes.
- Seek shade especially if outdoors between 11am and 3pm - and always use a sunshade on a child’s buggy.
do not use sunbeds
do not try to get a suntan
do not get sunburnt
Check the UV index
The UV index tells you how strong the sun’s UV rays are each day.
You need to protect your skin when the UV index is 3 or above.
In Ireland, UV is usually 3 or above from April to September, even when it is cloudy. UV is usually strongest between 11am and 3pm.
Check for skin changes
Checking your skin for signs of skin cancer can help you get an early diagnosis. Skin cancer is highly treatable if found early.