(Australian Associated Press)
Australia no longer has the highest rate of deadly skin cancers in the world, ceding the unwanted title to New Zealand thanks to the success of decades of public health campaigns.
Researchers from Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have found that Australia’s per capita rates of invasive melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are on the decline and expected to fall further over the next 15 years.
Australia’s per capita invasive melanoma rate peaked at around 49 cases per 100,000 people in 2005 but that had dropped back to 48 cases per 100,000 by 2011, while New Zealand’s rate had climbed to 50 cases per 100,000.
By 2031, the researchers estimate Australia’s per capita rate will have fallen to 41 per 100,000.
The study’s leader, Professor David Whiteman, said, of the six nations covered by the research, Australia was the only country to record a fall in melanoma rates and attributed the result to the success of public health campaigns since the 1980s.
“Australians have become more sun smart as they have become more aware of the dangers of melanoma and other skin cancers,” he said.
“Schools, workplaces and childcare centres have also introduced measures to decrease exposure to harmful UV radiation.”
But Professor Whiteman said the decline in melanoma rates had only occurred among those under the age of about 50, who had benefited from the awareness campaigns.
“Unfortunately, rates of melanoma are still increasing in people over the age of about 50,” he said.
“This is probably because many older people had already sustained sun damage before the prevention campaigns were introduced and those melanomas are only appearing now, many decades after the cancer-causing exposure to sunlight occurred.”
And the news is not all good: while per capita rates are falling, the overall number of cases of invasive melanoma is still rising, due to population growth and an ageing population.
Professor Whiteman also stressed that Australians could not afford to become complacent about sun protection.
“It’s crucial that people of all ages protect themselves from the sun by wearing a hat and protective clothing, using sunscreen and, where possible, by staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.”