Skin cancer rates concern Australian health experts

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks joined The Cancer Council Victoria today to launch the 2004 SunSmart season. Releasing the latest skin cancer rates for Victoria, Professor David Hill, Director of the Cancer Council warned of the human and economic costs to all Victorians if skin cancer rates continue to increase.

Professor Hill released the 2002 Cancer Council Victoria Registry melanoma rates, showing 1 807 Victorians had been diagnosed with melanoma, the most deadly of the skin cancers, with 215 Victorians dying in 2002 from the disease.

Non-melanoma skin cancer rates, which were released earlier this year, showed 48 850 Victorians were diagnosed with this most common type of skin cancer.

“When we combine melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer data, over 50 000 Victorians were diagnosed with skin cancer in 2002, with over 250 people losing their life to this preventable cancer. These rates indicate that the SunSmart message is as relevant today as it was when we began in 1980.”

Professor Hill explained that high skin cancer rates are expected to continue as it can take many years – even decades – between ultraviolet radiation exposure and diagnosis. “The good news is we are detecting melanomas a lot earlier and over 95% of people diagnosed will survive.”

“The Cancer Council Victoria has been tracking attitudes and behaviours related to sun protection since 1990 and we have seen some significant changes since the SunSmart program began.”

“We have made some major inroads in influencing the behaviours and attitudes of Victorians, with a significant decrease in the number of people getting sunburnt.”

"During the 1990s, Victorians’ desire for a tan decreased significantly. But in the past few years we have seen the number of people wanting a tan start to increase again. This is cause for concern.” Prof Hill said.

“We are concerned that if Victorians continue to deliberately expose their skin to dangerous ultraviolet radiation the gains our program has made may be jeopardised.” Prof Hill said.

Dr Rob Moodie, Chief Executive of VicHealth said, “For a long time The Cancer Council Victoria has been well recognised nationally and internationally for its SunSmart program. SunSmart is successful because it has improved the health of Victorians which would not have occurred without long term commitment and research underpinning all of its work.”

“While we still have a way to go to deal with the skin cancer epidemic in Australia, it is important to celebrate how far we have come. Victoria has been committed to the SunSmart program from its humble beginnings in the 1980s. Together we will continue the fight.” Dr Moodie said.

The Cancer Council Victoria proudly announced at the launch today its recent appointment as The World Health Organisation’s Collaborating Centre for the Promotion of Sun Protection.

Professor Hill said “The Cancer Council Victoria has played an important role in providing assistance to other Australian states, and countries, in the area of sun protection and we are delighted to now be recognised as the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for the Promotion of Sun Protection.”

“The SunSmart program has changed the behaviour of Victorians since the early 1980s, this summer our Victorian school children will wear their hats in the playgrounds, our lifesavers will be covered up, shade tents will be seen along our coastline and families will flock to our shady parks and playgrounds, all because of the cultural changes that have occurred through the work of the SunSmart program.” Prof Hill said.

“As the statistics released today show, we have achieved a lot but we still have some work to do in the fight against skin cancer and I would urge all Victorians to go out and enjoy this great state of ours but make sure you and your families are well protected with shade, a hat, protective clothing and plenty of sunscreen.” Prof Hill said.

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