Dramatic increase projected for Non Melanoma Skin Cancer in Ireland


Between the years 2015 and 2045, the average number of people in Ireland diagnosed with Non Melanoma Skin Cancer each year is projected to increase from 6,004 to 16,623 (+177%) for males and from 4,669 to 13,503 (+189%) for females, according to the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan 2023-2026, published in March.  Justin O’Toole reports.

NMSC is by far the most common skin cancer, accounting for 91% of skin cancers and  for 26% of overall cancer cases diagnosed in Ireland in the period 2018-2020.

Skin cancer is already the most common cancer in Ireland, with an average of 12,668 new cases (melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer combined) diagnosed each year for 2018-2020 . and the numbers rising rapidly. The National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) projections suggest that the average number of cases diagnosed each year may double between 2015 and 2045.

The Skin Cancer Prevention Plan says recent research conducted in Ireland, has explored for the first time the economic burden of melanoma skin cancer to the Irish healthcare system. The study found that the cost of managing a case of melanoma diagnosed at stage IV was more than 25 times higher than for a case diagnosed at stage IA (stage IV €122,985 versus stage IA €4,269). It said that given the increasing incidence of melanoma and health price inflation, management of melanoma will continue to present a challenge to healthcare services in Ireland into the future. The report says the findings of the research study highlighted the importance of prevention and early diagnosis to minimise the financial burden of melanoma skin cancer in Ireland.

Melanoma skin cancer is less common than NMSC and accounts for 9% of skin cancers. Excluding NMSC, melanoma skin cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in both males and females in Ireland, and accounted for approximately 1 in 20 (4.8%) new invasive cancer cases diagnosed between 2018-2020.

Over 1,100 people are diagnosed with melanoma annually, with approximately equal numbers of cases occurring in males and females. Irish cancer registry data has demonstrated increasing incidence rates of melanoma skin cancer among males between the years 1994 and 2014, with subsequent stabilisation from 2014 to 2019. By contrast, melanoma incidence rates in females have continued to increase from 1994-2019. In females, the incidence of melanoma of the skin has been increasing at a rate of on average 2.3% per year up to 2019. In males, the incidence of melanoma of the skin increased significantly during 1994-2014 followed by a levelling off in 2014-2019.

Between 2015 and 2045, it is projected that the number of cases of melanoma diagnosed each year among males will increase from 546 to 1,678 (+207%), and the number of cases diagnosed each year among females will increase from 584 to 1,400 (+140%). Median age at diagnosis of melanoma skin cancer is younger than for many other cancers and there is a higher proportion of males and females diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer under the age of 50 compared to all invasive cancers.

The highest incidence rates of melanoma skin cancer are observed in the south-eastern and southernmost counties. While melanoma skin cancer is not a leading cause of cancer death in Ireland, it does give rise to over 160 deaths per year.

Melanoma and NMSC are known to occur more frequently in more affluent populations compared to more deprived populations. A recent National Cancer Registry Ireland report demonstrated that those residing in the least deprived quintile of the population have a higher risk of melanoma compared to those in the most deprived quintile. Research suggests that this may be due in part to more exposure to UV radiation among those in more affluent populations usually due to repeated sun exposure during leisure activities.