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Uncovering the Truth: Skin Cancer Facts and Stats You Need to Know 📝

Skin cancer is a pressing public health concern, encompassing three main types: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), and Melanoma. BCC and SCC are more common, often manifesting as unusual bumps or lesions on the skin, while melanoma, though less frequent, is more aggressive and can spread rapidly. Risk factors include excessive sun exposure, particularly intense or intermittent exposure leading to sunburns, fair skin, family history, weakened immune system, and exposure to certain chemicals like arsenic. Prevention is paramount and involves practices such as using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, avoiding tanning beds, and regular skin examinations. Early detection is crucial, with vigilance for signs such as asymmetry, irregular borders, varied colors, large diameters, and evolving moles (ABCDEs). Treatment options vary based on cancer type, size, and location, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy. Public awareness efforts play a vital role in promoting sun safety practices and encouraging regular skin screenings to mitigate the impact of skin cancer on individuals and communities.

Skin cancer facts & statements

  • More than two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.

  • About 2,000 Australians die from skin cancer each year.

  • Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

  • Medicare records show there were over a million treatments for squamous and basal cell carcinoma skin cancers in 2018 – that’s more than 100 skin cancer treatments every hour.

  • Basal and squamous cell carcinoma skin cancers accounted for one quarter of all cancer-related hospitalisations in 2014–15. The cost to the health system of these skin cancers alone is estimated to be more than $700 million annually. The costs to the Federal Government and the community from basal and squamous cell carcinomas are predicted to continue to increase in the future.

  • In 2018, 3,097 Victorians were diagnosed with melanoma and 291 lost their lives to it.

  • It is estimated that approximately 200 melanomas and 34,000 other skin cancer types per year are caused by occupational exposures in Australia.


National position statement

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 organizations, particularly the Australasian College of Dermatologists.

These include:

  • Eye protection - 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.

  • Fake tans - 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Private solariums - 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.

  • Sunscreen - 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.

  • 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.

  • Tinted windows - Clear or tinted films applied to car windows can substantially reduce the amount of UV radiation that is transmitted into the vehicle.

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