Photo: STUK

Health & wellbeing

Melanoma incidence in Finland is on the rise, particularly among the younger population who often underestimate the long-term health risks posed by sun exposure. Despite increasing awareness about the dangers of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, many young Finns are failing to adopt adequate sun protection measures.

The Finnish Cancer Registry reported a significant uptick in melanoma cases, with 1,028 men and 811 women diagnosed in 2023.

Remarkably, the survival rate remains high, with 94% of those diagnosed still alive after five years. Yet, experts warn that melanoma cases could reach nearly 3,000 annually if current trends persist.

Sunlight exposure during Finland's peak UV periods—particularly around Midsummer—poses significant risks. Southern Finland experiences high UV index levels, often exceeding safe limits from mid-April through September. The UV intensity is similarly high in Northern Finland from May to early August, exacerbated by the reflection of UV rays off snow surfaces in spring.

Kaisa Lakkala, a Research Scientist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, highlighted the potential increase in UV exposure due to climate change, which could lead to warmer summers and more frequent heat cycles. This change encourages lighter clothing and increased skin exposure, raising the risk of skin damage.

Experts stress that four out of five melanoma cases could be prevented with proper protection from UV radiation. Effective sun protection is not solely an individual responsibility but can be supported by societal measures as well. Anne Höytö, Senior Specialist at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, suggests enhancing shade in public spaces such as parks, playgrounds, and sports fields to reduce UV exposure.

Heidi Löflund-Kuusela, Manager of Health Promotion at local cancer organizations, emphasizes that sun protection should extend beyond beach days to include everyday activities. She advocates for using protective clothing, seeking shade, and applying sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30.

The thesis of Laura Mikkola, Master of Health Sciences, from the University of Eastern Finland, reveals that young Finns often protect themselves with sunscreen and headgear, especially during extended outdoor activities. However, many do not see skin cancer as an immediate concern due to their youth. Mikkola suggests that increasing education about sun protection and health risks through schools and social media could enhance awareness and behavioral change among young people.

As Finland grapples with the rising threat of melanoma, integrating comprehensive protection strategies and boosting public awareness about the dangers of UV exposure could be key to reversing this worrying trend.