Summer may fade but lip cancer, a form of mouth cancer caused largely by the sun, cares little about seasons. Lips are extremely vulnerable to burning, premature aging and lip cancer. Solar damage is a risk even through cloud and in Winter time. Men over 40 run the greatest risk of developing lip cancer, though it can affect anyone who spends much time outdoors. It is thought that lip cancer may affect more men than women, principally because outdoor work such as farming, fishing and forestry traditionally attracts more males.

Unlike the rest of our skin, lips do not produce melanin. This is the pigment that generates a tan but also provides some natural protection from the sun’s harmful UV radiation. Chronic sun exposure can later lead to Aktinic Keratosis (potentially pre-cancerous crusting) or ultimately, lip cancer.

SCC lip
Lip Cancer. photo courtesy of The Skin Cancer Foundation


Lip cancer is considered both a mouth cancer and a skin cancer. The tell-tale symptom is a sore, lesion or lump that won’t heal. The lips may be painful and/or bleed.

If treated too late there is a chance, though small, that it may spread to other organs. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (USA), lip cancer is ‘not uncommon’ but if treated early, it is ‘almost always curable.’ However, the relapse rate post-treatment can be as high as 35%. In advanced stages or recurrent cases some studies show that the mortality rate reaches up to 15%. (source)

The general risks associated with mouth cancers are gender (male), age (40+), smoking or tobacco chewing, alcohol abuse, compromised immune system and in some cases, Human Papillomvirus (HPV) which is spread via oral sex. But when it comes to lips, extended or repeated sun exposure is the primary threat.


The Irish Cancer Society‘s advises adults to use sunscreen with minimum SPF15 and UV protection in addition to seeking shade and covering up. A baseball hat is insufficient headgear as the shade doesn’t always reach the lower face. If participating in water sports or sweating a lot, use a sunscreen that is water resistant (80 minutes protection). Reapply every two hours and after towelling.

Skiing poses a high risk of sunburn. Snow reflects and amplifies the sun’s harmful rays. In addition to the fore-mentioned precautions, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends avoiding the slopes between 10am and 4pm when the sun is at its strongest and to carry travel sized sunscreen for handy reapplication.


 IMG_2858We asked Selene Daly, Dermatology Clinical Nurse Specialist in Sligo Regional Hospital and spokesperson for the Irish Skin Foundation, for specific lip care advice.

‘I would strongly recommend factor 50 sticks in high summer, for hiking, sun holidays and when out on open water’ says Selene. She also strongly recommends SPF 50 for sufferers of coldsores, which are more often triggered by UV light.

When it comes to off season or short term sun exposure though Selene advocates high protection (50)  ‘SPF15 is better than using nothing at all. ‘She explains that ‘it’s difficult to know how stable this filter is if the lipstick has been used for more than 6 months or stored inappropriately.’ Her advice is to read the labels for optimum storage temperatures and  to note the expiry date, usually 6 months to 1 year.


There has been debate that shiny lip glosses with no sunscreen present greater risk than going bare lipped when out and about. Selene throws some light on the question; ‘many Dermatologists feel these glossy lip products may increase the risk of skin [lip] cancer.  The action of the gloss changes the nature of the skin and can allow UV light to penetrate deeper thus increasing the chance of DNA mutation. ‘

This past month, members of the team at Portobello Dental Clinic , male and female, decided to get lippy.  We gave a variety of sun screening lip products a test run. To see our verdicts, you can check back with our blog tomorrow.

If you are worried about a sore on your lip or in your mouth do get it checked. This Wednesday, 17th September is Mouth Cancer Awareness Day. You can book in for a Free mouth cancer screening, which only takes 10 minutes, by phoning us on 01 4542022.

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