International Men’s Health Week: Know the signs of skin cancer

It’s International Men’s Health Week and greater awareness is needed about our vital organ, says Geraldine Walsh.

Ignoring the symptoms and warning signs, avoiding the doctor, and not talking are old habits which can die hard. Or early.

Men’s health remains a hushed topic with lack of awareness, understanding and conversation being a few of the reasons men are still dying younger than women worldwide.

Studies have shown men remain tight-lipped when it comes to seeking help or talking about physical and mental health issues. Reasons vary from not bothering, not wanting to cause worry or simply as a by-product of how they were raised. Considering men are rarely open books, intervention and awareness is often needed to encourage men to take care of themselves.

Breaking this taboo about talking through their issues needs a national effort which is why the theme of this year’s International Men’s Health Week is ideal in order to help tackle men’s poor health and lack of awareness.

“Make the Time. Take the Time,” encourages us to add the men in our life to the list. This year’s International Men’s Health Week runs from today until June 16.

In Ireland, one of the most prevalent cancers affecting men is non-melanoma skin cancer. With one in six being affected, it is necessary for men to be extra vigilant about their skin.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland with an estimated 10,000 cases per year, including just over 6,000 men

- says Kevin O’Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager, Irish Cancer Society.

“While skin cancer can often be seen as something that affects women more, the reality is that more men than women get and die from skin cancer every year. The non-melanoma skin cancer rate was 46% higher in males in 2017 and mortality rates in men were 2.5 times higher for non-melanoma skin cancers compared to women.

“This could be related to the fact that men are more likely to work outdoors than women and may not take the same precautions to protect their skin as well as a poor awareness among men of skin cancer signs. Men may also ignore changes to the skin which are not painful, and other masculine traits such as physical toughness and self-reliance may also contribute to later diagnosis.”

“Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland with an estimated 10,000 cases per year, including just over 6,000men,” says Kevin O’Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager, Irish Cancer Society, below.
“Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland with an estimated 10,000 cases per year, including just over 6,000men,” says Kevin O’Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager, Irish Cancer Society, below.

There are several forms of non-melanoma skin cancer with the most common being basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Dr Ross Perry, Skin Cancer Reconstruction Expert and Medical Director of CosmedicsUK, explains that the skin is the body’s largest organ. “It covers your entire body and protects you against harmful factors from the environment such as the sun, hot temperatures and germs,” says Dr Perry.

“The skin controls body temperature, removes waste products from the body through sweat and provides the sense of touch. It also helps make vitamin D cells in the skin sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to non-cancerous (benign) growths such as dermatofibromas, moles, skin tags and warts.

“Generally, non-melanoma skin cancer starts in round cells called basal cells found in the top layer of the skin, making up about 75%–80% of all skin cancers. It can also start in squamous cells of the skin, which are flat cells found in the outer part of the epidermis. Both tend to grow slowly and are often found early.”

Non-melanoma skin cancer can appear as a lump, a discoloured patch of skin or appear as a growth which won’t heal. It may be red and firm or flat and scaly and may change slowly over a period of time. New moles may be suspect as can the change in appearance of a current mole.

“Most cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are caused by contact with UV rays from the sun over a long time,” advises Dr Perry. “People who work outside, have a higher risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer because they are outdoors for long periods.”

By monitoring our bodies, protecting our skin and being conscious of any changes, this form of cancer is almost always completely cured if caught early and treated appropriately. Developing a routine of watching for changes in our skin is a good regime to have.

However, simply because damage to our skin may not be evident does not mean we are not at risk. Any exposure to light will make our skin more vulnerable. Risk factors include having a light or fair complexion which freckles or burns easily; having a large number of moles; having had sunburn as a child; using tanning beds; being exposed to sunlight for much of your life; having a history of burnt skin.

Previously having had skin cancer or having a family history of skin cancer can also increase the odds.

“It is vital that people take action to protect their skin from the sun, even on cloudy days,” advises O’Hagan, “and this is even more relevant to people working outdoors, such as construction workers, farmers, postal workers as well as sports people. Every summer, the Irish Cancer Society urges Irish people to be Sun Smart which involves staying out of the midday sun, using a minimum SPF30 on exposed areas, wearing sunglasses and a hat to protect from the sun and avoiding sunbeds.” If you notice any changes to your skin which you can’t explain and doesn’t heal after four weeks, pay a visit to your GP.

For more information, or to take a skin checker quiz, log on to

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