Worried woman looking at her skin in the mirror
Date: 
August 24, 2017

Melanoma in Ireland at record high

Ireland has highest rate of deaths in Europe from aggressive skin cancer, but new treatment options provide hope for patients, public talk to hear

Incidences of melanoma in Ireland have reached record highs, but advances in treatment provide hope to patients of this often aggressive form of skin cancer, a public talk will hear tonight.

The Irish Cancer Society Decoding Cancer event Getting Under the Skin – Modern Melanoma Treatments will see Dr Derek Power outline the latest advances in our understanding of advanced melanoma and its prevention and treatment. This free public talk takes place Thursday, 24 August from 6:15pm in the Main Auditorium, Cork University Hospital.

Latest figures show that in 2014 as many as 1,041 people were diagnosed with melanoma in Ireland – the first time the number of incidences here surpassed the 1,000-mark since records began.

Cases of melanoma have almost trebled in the last 20 years. While cases have increased, thankfully so have survival rates; now, almost 9 in 10 (89.3%) of patients survive for at least five years after their diagnosis.

However, Ireland still has the highest mortality rate in Europe for melanoma, with, on average, 159 people dying from this disease annually.

The rise in melanomas has affected men more than women, with incidence rates in men rising 125% higher in the past 20 years, compared to a 54% increase among women over the same period.

In an effort to address this, the Irish Cancer Society’s annual SunSmart campaign teamed up with the Irish Farmers’ Association and the Construction Industry Federation – to highlight the fact that almost 1 in 4 (23%) of skin cancer deaths in Ireland are from the largely male-focussed construction, outdoor and farming industries.

According to UK research, working in the sun could lead to one death and around five melanoma cases a week. The report, published in the British Journal of Cancer, said that construction workers diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer had the highest number of deaths (4 in 10), followed by agriculture workers (over 2 in 10).

The Irish Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Manager Kevin O’Hagan said: “The summer may be coming to an end, but it’s still important to be SunSmart. You don’t have to live in a Mediterranean country for the sun to do damage to your skin and Irish people need to wise up to that. Even cloudy days can do serious damage to your skin if you’re not suitably protected. Whether it’s sunny or cloudy, everyone should protect their skin and this summer, we are asking people to follow our SunSmart Code for best protection.”

Dr Power is a graduate of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a fellow of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, New York. He returned to Cork to take up his consultant position in 2010, where he was jointly appointed an honorary clinical lecturer in University College Cork. Dr Power is an author on more than 80 papers, reviews and book chapters on cancer and various aspects of cancer research.

Dr Derek PowerSpeaking ahead of his talk tonight, Dr Power said: “Melanoma cases are rising, but thanks to research advances, there are more ways to treat this form of cancer than ever. As an oncologist I’ve seen first-hand the difference cancer research has made to the lives of my patients, and I’m excited to share the advances in treatment which that research has resulted in with the public in Cork tonight.

“Before 2010 the treatment available for advanced melanoma was ineffective. Chemotherapy did not work and drugs which stimulated the immune system to fight the disease were very toxic and overall results were poor. In a decade where new treatments were becoming available for other cancers and outcomes were improving all the time, melanoma was seen as the poor relation.

“The last 10-15 years, however, have seen major improvements in the drug treatment of advanced and localised melanoma, to such an extent that this disease is now seen as the poster-child for modern targeted therapy and immunotherapy. We now have many treatments in both tablet and injection forms that can prolong life and have tolerable side effects.

“Thanks to large, well conducted clinical trials many patients now have several treatment options which can very realistically offer long term survival. Genetic mutations which drive the disease can be targeted by several tablets and the immune system can be stimulated to fight the disease. Many of the new drugs are now showing activity in localised melanoma which is at high risk of returning after surgery.

“It is a very exciting time for a doctor like me who sees many patients with melanoma. It is wonderful to see patients benefitting from modern therapies and living good quality life. It is a privilege to be involved in the treatment of melanoma and to have seen the progress that has been made over the last 15 years.”

This event is being held as part of the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘Decoding Cancer’ series of public talks, which aims to dispel some of the myths around cancer and explore the many advances being made through research in prevention, early detection, treatment, and survivors’ quality of life.

The public talk: ‘Getting Under the Skin – Modern Melanoma Treatments’ is free but registration is required. To register and for more information please see decodingcancermelanoma.eventbrite.ie. The talk will also be live-streamed on the Irish Cancer Society’s Facebook page – join in the conversation on social media #DecodingCancer.

For more information on skin cancer or how to be SunSmart, visit www.cancer.ie/Sunsmart.

To speak to a cancer nurse on any aspect of cancer contact the Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700, email cancernurseline@irishcancer.ie or drop into one of 13 Daffodil Centres in hospitals nationwide.