You might never lie on the beach but if your skin is tanned you are still at risk of skin cancer. This is how it can happen and what you can do to prevent it.
You might never lie on the beach but if your skin is tanned you are still at risk of skin cancer. This is how it can happen and what you can do to prevent it.

How you can get skin cancer in just 10 minutes

Australians are multiplying their chances of getting skin cancer by simply not slapping on sunscreen on their way to work.

While fewer people are sunbaking on the beach, new research shows two in three still have bronzed skin caused by small bursts of sun exposure, lasting just ten minutes.

The number of new melanoma cases has almost doubled and the lack of a national skin cancer advertising campaign is being blamed.

The research by the Cancer Council found less than half (44 per cent) of all adults use sun protection when they are outside for more than 10 minutes while going about their daily business during summer.

"Australians seem to be getting the message that there is nothing healthy about a tan - and are no longer lathering up in coconut oil and roasting themselves on the beach, but many adults still have a tan, which is a sign of UV skin damage" Heather Walker, Chair, National Skin Cancer Committee Cancer Council Australia said.

 

Sunbaking on the beach is not the only way to get skin cancer. Picture: Istock
Sunbaking on the beach is not the only way to get skin cancer. Picture: Istock

The proportion of Australians actively seeking a tan fell from 15 per cent in 2003-04 to 11 per cent in 2013-14 but has plateaued since.

The problem is nine in ten Australians don't always use sun protection when UV levels are 3 or above, Ms Walker said.

"It's important for us all to remember that sun protection isn't just needed at the beach or by the pool - you can get a tan from incidental sun damage while you potter in the garden, play cricket in the backyard, go for a walk or work outdoors.

"Don't use sunscreen alone - slip on clothing, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses," she said.

 

 

Two in three Australians are expected to be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70 and over 2000 Australians die from skin cancer each year.

There will be more than 15,000 new melanoma cases diagnosed in 2019.

The incidence of melanoma has nearly doubled, increasing from 27 to 49 cases per 100,000 people since 1982.

Melanoma rates are highest among those aged over 80 but people aged 60-69 account for the highest proportion of new cases because it takes 20 years for skin cancer to develop, Ms Walker said.

 

Skin cancer rates falling among the under 40s. Picture: iStock
Skin cancer rates falling among the under 40s. Picture: iStock

The good news is the rate of melanoma in people aged under 40 fell by 27 per cent between 2002 and 2016 proving the success of slip slop slap and Sid the Seagull advertising campaigns, Ms Walker said.

However, there hasn't been a national skin cancer campaign in Australia in the last 12 years.

"Now is the time for Government to continue to build on Australia's skin cancer prevention success story with a renewed campaign to make sure Australians remain vigilant about sun protection," she said.

Public Health Association Australia CEO Terry Slevin said it was important to keep preventive health messages in the front of people's minds and prompt them to protect their skin before opening their front door each day.

"We spend $1 billion a year treating skin cancer, if we spent just one per cent of that on prevention it would be enormously beneficial," he said.

 

 

Prevention programs like SunSmart have been highly cost-effective, with returns of up to $3.85 for every $1 invested, Ms Walker said.

PE teacher Hannah Binks has fair skin and red hair and was extremely careful about sun protection but still developed a melanoma.

A mole on the 27 year old changed shape in 2017 but she ignored her sister's pleas to get it checked until last year.

"It became discoloured and went white in the centre so I had it checked," the teacher from Bondi, in Sydney, said.

Treatment was successful and it has made her even more vigilant about sun protection.

"With my students I don't let them come out without a hat and sunscreen," she said.

"They have an understanding of what happened to me and they are aware of why I say they must put a hat and sunscreen on," she said.

Unfortunately, the Cancer Council study found kids aged 12-18 still thought a tan made them look pretty.



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