Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world. More than 11,500 Australian men and women are diagnosed with a melanoma each year, and an estimated 434,000 people are treated for one or more non-melanoma1 skin cancers. Skin cancer accounts for over 80% of all new cases of cancer diagnosed in Australia each year.
Luckily, skin cancer is almost entirely preventable and high-profile awareness and information campaigns telling Australians how to save their skin have been in place for several decades. But there are still a lot of misconceptions about skin cancer and sun protection.
Cancer Council Australia's Skin Cancer Committee has developed a number of position statements and fact sheets addressing common myths and misunderstandings and providing clear information and advice aimed at helping Australians reduce their skin cancer risk. Many of the statements have been developed with input from other expert health organisations, particularly the Australasian College of Dermatologists.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun doesn't just damage the skin. It can lead to eye complaints such as cataracts and cancers on the surface of the eye.
This fact sheet, endorsed by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, provides background information on the impact of exposure of the eyes to UV radiation. It explains the Australian Standard which classifies sunglasses based on the amount of UV radiation that passes through the lenses. It also covers eye protection in the workplace, the importance of children wearing good quality sunglasses and protection levels offered by prescription glasses.
The fact sheet lists recommended measures to protect eyes from sun damage.
Fake tans provide a safer alternative to sunbathing and solarium use. However, Cancer Council is concerned that some people who use them mistakenly believe their tan will protect them against UV radiation. As a result, they may not take appropriate sun protection measures, putting them at greater risk of skin cancer.
This position statement provides background information about various fake tanning products on the market and explains why Cancer Council does not encourage their use. It also outlines sun protection measures people should take while using fake tanning products.
Risks and benefits of sun exposure
Sun exposure is the cause of around 99% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 95% of melanomas in Australia. However, exposure to small amounts of sunlight is also essential to good health. A balance is required between avoiding an increase in the risk of skin cancer by excessive sun exposure and achieving enough exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.
Recent research has shown some Australians have been deliberately seeking sun exposure over summer because they are concerned about vitamin D deficiency.
In response to potential confusion over mixed messages about the risks and benefits of sun exposure, a collaboration of Cancer Council Australia, the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and the Australasian College of Dermatologists brought experts from around Australia to a roundtable in Melbourne in December 2006, to review the latest evidence on vitamin D and develop this position statement.
The position statement explains the link between vitamin D and sunlight, summarises the health problems that can result from a vitamin D deficiency and outlines the risk factors for vitamin D deficiency. It touches on recent claims about links between sun exposure and the prevention of a range of chronic diseases.
The statement also contains guidelines to tell Australians how much sun they need to avoid vitamin D deficiency and stay healthy without increasing their risk of skin cancer.
Screening and early detection of skin cancer
Survival from melanoma is strongly associated with depth of invasion; deeper and thicker melanomas are more likely to metastasise (spread) and be more difficult to treat. Thus, early detection is important. However, there is insufficient evidence that population-based screening reduces melanoma mortality.
Cancer Council Australia encourages people to become familiar with their skin, including skin not normally exposed to the sun, and consult a doctor if they notice any change in shape, colour or size of a lesion, or the development of a new lesion.
This position statement covers recommendations for the early detection of skin cancer for all Australians, including those at high risk, and discusses the lack of evidence to support population-based screening for skin cancer.
Private ownership and personal use of solariums remain legal (and unregulated) in all states and territories.
Cancer Council Australia does not recommend the use of artificial UV radiation tanning devices for cosmetic purposes in any circumstances. This position statement has information on private ownership and use of solariums in Australia.
Using sunscreen regularly has been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer, including the deadliest form, melanoma. Sunscreen is one of five sun protection measures (slip, slop, slap, seek, slide). Cancer Council recommends using sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and is water resistant.
This fact sheet provides information on choosing a sunscreen, correct application, sunscreen safety and sunscreen use and babies.
Sun protection and infants (0-12 months)
Babies' delicate skin makes them particularly susceptible to sun damage. Current evidence suggests that childhood sun exposure makes an important contribution to the lifetime risk of skin cancer.
This fact sheet outlines the steps parents and carers should take to protect infants from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the day they are born. It addresses concerns about sunscreen use in babies and explains why direct sunlight is not recommended to treat nappy rash and jaundice.
Sun protection in the workplace
Outdoor workers have a higher risk of certain kinds of non-melanoma skin cancer because they often spend long periods of time in the sun, all year round, over many years of working life.
Cancer Council recommends that workplaces have comprehensive sun protection strategies, as outlined in this position statement.
Clear or tinted films applied to car windows can substantially reduce the amount of UV radiation that is transmitted into the vehicle.
This fact sheet provides information about the transmission of UV radiation through car windscreens and side windows before and after tinting. It also touches on the transmission of UV radiation through house and office window glass.
1 Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer according to surveys, however there is no reporting of actual cases to cancer registries.
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