Every year in Australia, skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers, and around 2000 people die from this disease annually1. More than 95% of skin cancer cases are caused by unprotected exposure to UV radiation from the sun, meaning it is a nearly entirely preventable cancer1.
While many take a proactive approach to sun protection when spending extended time outdoors, it’s important to note that the daily, incidental, sun exposure you get from driving your car, hanging the washing out, or popping out of the office for coffee, is enough to damage your skin and cause skin cancer.
Covering up and using at least 30+ sunscreen on the parts we cannot cover protects us from the dangers of these short bursts of incidental sun. Research shows that with the use of sunscreen every single day, the risk of developing melanoma is reduced by a massive 50%2. For added incentive, most users notice the anti-aging effects within 30 days of daily sunscreen use!
Research has also shown that the earlier we detect and excise a melanoma the less likely it is to ever spread to lymph nodes and organs. If there is no spread, there is a 98% chance of survival3, so regular skin checks are crucial.
Melanomas can be difficult to diagnose as they can be any size, any colour (including skin coloured), raised or flat, rough or smooth and can occur on areas of the body that have never or rarely seen direct sun. It is important that skin checks are conducted by a doctor trained in skin cancer medicine who is confident using a dermatoscope and interpreting the findings.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many health appointments were postponed or conducted via telehealth. While skin cancer clinics have been diligently recalling patients since restrictions eased, it is essential that patients take a proactive approach to their health and book in a skin check, particularly if you have a past history of skin cancer.
With prevention and early detection, it is possible to stop the loss of lives and suffering to skin cancer, while still enjoying the wonderful outdoor lifestyle Australia has to offer.
- Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world with our national statistics showing an overall incidence of melanoma of 48 per 100,000 people. There is no doubt that Queensland is the skin cancer capital of the world, however, with the much higher than national incidence of 71 per 100,000 people
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that at least 2 in 3 Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70. These figures are even higher in Queensland.
- Both the risk of developing all types of skin cancer and the risk of dying from it is higher in men than women
- Skin cancer causes more deaths than transport accidents every year in Australia (ABS 2018)
- Melanoma is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in in Australia
- Australian women have a 1 in 21 chance of being diagnosed with melanoma before the age of 85, whereas men have a 1 in 14 risk.
- Melanoma rates are predicted to increase for many years as there is still a continued upward trajectory in people aged over 45 years who experienced sun damage in their youth.
- Reassuringly, despite this steady increase in melanoma rates, the mortality rates are slowly trending downwards. This is due to increased awareness of skin cancer, improved sun protective behaviours (as a result of extensive skin cancer prevention programs dating back to the 1980s) and also increased survival since the advent of immunotherapy.
- While only a small proportion of total melanoma cases are diagnosed in younger people, Australian adolescents and young adults have by far the highest incidence of melanoma in the world compared to other countries. Melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among 15–39 year olds. In 20–39 year olds, melanoma is the commonest cause of death from cancer
- Melanoma incidence rates in Australia are more than two to three times higher than those in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Although mortality rates are relatively quite low, they are still more than two times higher in Australia and New Zealand than in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
- The incidence of melanoma was 9.3 cases per 100,000 among Indigenous Australians, compared with 48 cases per 100,000 among non-Indigenous Australians. Mortality rates are also lower for Indigenous Australians (2.3 deaths per 100,000) compared with non-Indigenous Australians (6.4 deaths per 100,000).
1. Cancer Council Queensland. (2020).National Skin Cancer Action Week. https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/sun-safety/campaigns-and-events/national-skin-cancer-action-week
2. Skin Cancer Foundation. (2020.). All About Sunscreen.
3. Melanoma Research Alliance. (2020). Melanoma Survival Rates.