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Research suggests Australians confused about sun protection

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Fewer than one in 10 Australians understand that sun protection is required when UV levels are three or above, according to research by the Cancer Council and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australian men and women. Australia and New Zealand have the highest melanoma rates in the world with Queensland incidence rate of 71 cases per 100,000 people (for the years 2009-2013), vastly exceeding rates in all other jurisdictions nationally and internationally.

Melanoma is the most common cancer in young Australians (15–39 year olds) making up 20 per cent of all their cancer cases.

Heather Walker, Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s National Skin Cancer Committee, said the latest National Sun Protection Survey results showed a clear gap in Australians’ knowledge. Forty per cent of Australians are still confused about which weather factors cause sunburn.

“This new research shows that Australians are still very confused about what causes sunburn, which means people aren’t protected when they need to be,” she said.

“In summer 2016-17, 24 per cent of Australian adults surveyed incorrectly believed that sunburn risk was related to temperature, while 23 percent incorrectly cited conditions such as cloud cover, wind or humidity.

“It’s important for us to reinforce the message that it’s ultraviolet radiation that is the major cause of skin cancer – and that UV can’t be seen or felt. It’s a particularly important message this time of year. In autumn, temperatures in some parts of the country are cooling, but UV levels right across Australia are still high enough to cause serious sunburn and the skin damage that leads to cancer.”

Professor David Whiteman, Head of the Cancer Control group at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, said despite years of public education, encouraging Australians to protect their skin was an ongoing challenge.

“These findings show that very few Australians know when to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays,” he said.

“This is clearly a concern as it’s likely that Australians are relying on other factors, like the temperature or clouds, to determine when they need to slip, slop, slap, seek shade and slide on sunglasses.

“There is overwhelming evidence that, if used correctly, sunscreen prevents skin cancer – yet at the moment many Australians don’t even really understand when it’s required, and many are neglecting to use it altogether. We also know from previous research that 85 per cent of Australians don’t apply it correctly.”

Late last year, the Cancer Council National Sun Protection Survey showed that overall the proportion of adults slipping on clothing to protect themselves from the sun has decreased from 19 per cent to 17 per cent in the last three years.  

The Cancer Council believes there is a need for Government to continue to invest in skin cancer campaigns to ensure adults remain vigilant about reducing their UV exposure.

“Australia hasn’t had Federal funding for a skin cancer prevention campaign since 2007 – this latest data suggests adults are becoming complacent about UV and demonstrates the urgent need for a refreshed national campaign,” Professor Sanchia Aranda, Cancer Council Australia Chief Executive Officer said.

Cancer Council’s SunSmart app provides local UV alerts and sun protection times and can be downloaded free on the App Store or Google Play.