Cancer Council Australia

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Causes of skin cancer

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Anyone can be at risk of developing skin cancer, though the risk increases as you get older.

The majority of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to UV radiation in sunlight.


Sunburn has been associated with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

In Australia almost 14% of adults, 24% of teenagers and 8% of children are sunburnt on summer weekends. Many people get sunburnt when they are taking part in water sports and activities at the beach or a pool, as well gardening at home or having a barbeque.

People are also sunburnt on cooler or overcast days when they mistakenly believe UV radiation is not as strong. This is untrue - you can still be sunburnt when the temperature is cool.

Sun exposure that doesn't result in burning can still cause damage to skin cells and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Evidence suggests that regular exposure to UV radiation year after year can also lead to skin cancer.


Almost half of Australian adults hold the misguided belief that a tan looks healthy. But a tan is a sign of skin cells in trauma.

Tanning is a sign that you have been exposed to enough UV radiation (from the sun or solarium) to damage your skin.

A tan will offer limited protection from sunburn, but usually no more than SPF3, depending on your skin type. It does not protect from DNA damage.

Some people who use fake tans mistakenly believe it will provide them with protection against UV radiation. As a result, they may not take sun protection measures, putting them at greater risk of skin cancer.  More information about fake tans is available in Cancer Council's position statement on fake tans.


Solariums emit UVA and UVB radiation, both known causes of cancer. Cancer Council Australia does not recommend solarium use for cosmetic tanning under any circumstances.

More information about solariums is available in Cancer Council's position statement on solariums.



  1. The Cancer Council Australia, National Sun Survey 2004.

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This page was last updated on: Wednesday, March 27, 2019

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