Blog: Becoming SunSmart - Reflections on skin cancer prevention in Ireland
Sun safety

In this blog, Lauren Rodriguez, IPH Public Health Development Officer, reflects on the policy impact from a report IPH published in 2020 in partnership with NUI Galway. 

This report, Children’s exposure to ultraviolet radiation – a risk profile for future skin cancers in Ireland, presented the first nationally representative data on sun protection behaviours, sunbed use, and sunburn among children aged 11 to 17 in Ireland [1].

 

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Ireland. Estimates from the National Cancer Registry suggest that almost 13,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. This number is projected to double by 2045.

With summer in full swing and Met Eireann issuing a heat weather warning, it is timely to reflect on the Institute’s work and contribution to government policy to reduce the risk of skin cancers.

Ireland’s first Skin Cancer Prevention Plan was published in 2019, as part of a suite of policies under the Healthy Ireland Framework. A ‘health in all policies’ approach to tackling skin cancer is included in the National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026 and this was further detailed within the 2019 National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan, the first action plan to specifically focus on skin cancer.

 

Understanding risk exposures in childhood

Within the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan, IPH was named as a delivery body and tasked with an action to develop a profile of children’s sun safety behaviours, their use of sunbeds and their experience of sunburn. This led IPH to work closely with researchers at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) to configure questions for inclusion in the 2018 Health Behaviour and School-Age Children Survey – the questions were carefully piloted and revised before fieldwork began[2].

In June 2020, IPH and NUIG published the joint report, Children’s exposure to ultraviolet radiation – a risk profile for future skin cancers in Ireland. The report provided the first ever nationally representative data on school children and young people’s sun protection behaviours. It also provided baseline data to support monitoring of the government’s National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan 2019-2022. Since then, the report is one of the most downloaded publications on the IPH website with over 2,500 downloads.

 

 

Evidence for implementation

Implementation of the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan is led by the HSE National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP), with an implementation subgroup focused specifically on children and young people. IPH contributes directly to this subgroup which also features input from national advocacy and charity organisations as well as public health professionals around the country. This allows the Institute to support the translation of research findings[3] into decisions on investment, like national campaigns, as well as discussions on legislative and policy changes.

The purpose of the subgroup is to contribute to the implementation of Action Area 3 of the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan.

Some of the highlights of the group’s ongoing work include:

  • Engaging and directly consulting children and young people on SunSmart education materials and awareness campaigns
  • Developing an annual Healthy Ireland SunSmart awareness campaign aimed at parents, children and young people
  • Developing a pilot of SunSmart games and sunhats for Let’s Go Summer Camps, Dublin Northeast Inner City camps, as well as Sport Ireland camps
  • Developing a SunSmart policy on outdoor play for early learning centres
  • Developing an FAQ document developed for Public Health Nurses on sun protection for babies and children
  • Identifying opportunities to include messages about skin cancer prevention for babies, children, and young people in communications with parents. This included a sunhat for newborns in a ‘Little Baby Bundle’ pilot programme and an update to the My Child public health network manual
  • Developing and piloting SunSmart primary school lesson plans – junior and senior – and increasing awareness of UV risk and protection among young children attending Early Learning Centre settings
  • Launching the ‘Get SunSmart! Children’s Art Competition’ to encourage creativity and learn how to enjoy the sun safely among primary school children
  • Disseminating and promoting resources to support the curriculum in relation to skin protection for use in primary and post primary schools, including through the official Scoilnet portal.

The current national skin cancer prevention plan concludes this year. While work is underway to develop an updated plan for 2023, it is important to reflect on all that has been achieved to date, especially in relation to children and young people who are vulnerable to the environmental, social, and commercial determinants of skin cancer.

 

Further information and support

SunSmart resources for parents, children and schools can be found at www.hse.ie/SunSmart

A Health Warning on sunbed use can be found at https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/5/cancer/prevention/nccp-sunbeds-dl-p5-.pdf

 

References

[1] The author would like to thank colleagues at IPH and the HSE National Cancer Control Programme for their contributions to this blog including, Maria McEnery, Skin Cancer Prevention Plan lead & Cancer Prevention Officer and Aine Lyng, Cancer Prevention Officer.

[2] Költő, A., Harrington, A., Kavanagh, A., Tyrrell, L., and Nic Gabhainn, S. (2018). New Questions for the Health Behaviour in school-aged Children (HBSC) Study in Ireland: Pilot 2018. Galway: National University of Ireland, Galway

[3] Költő A, Rodriguez L, McAvoy H, Nic Gabhainn S. (2021). Sunburn, Sun Safety and Indoor Tanning Among Schoolchildren in Ireland. International Journal of Public Health.

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