Cancer Council Australia

Annual Review 2015-2016

Skin cancer

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Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in Australia, with dermatologists, surgeons and GPs treating more than 2000 skin cancers every day. Each year around 2000 Australians die from skin cancer.

Cancer Council Australia, through our National Skin Cancer Committee, conducts public awareness campaigns and facilitates and supports activities in schools, childcare, sports grounds and workplaces to increase knowledge about sun protection and early detection of skin cancer.

We also advocate for skin cancer prevention and early detection policies and programs that will help reduce the incidence and impact of skin cancer in Australia.

Expert consensus on sun protection and vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for bone and musculoskeletal health, and is produced in the body by exposure of skin to sunlight. There has been much public concern and confusion in recent years about getting sufficient vitamin D for optimal health while using sun protection to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

In order to provide clear and evidence-based advice Cancer Council Australia led a review of the latest scientific evidence and development of a new position statement on the risks and benefits of sun exposure.

In January 2016, we released new recommendations to help Australians balance the need for sun protection with adequate exposure to the sun to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. The position statement on risks and benefits of sun exposure was jointly published by Cancer Council, the Australasian College of Dermatologists, the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and the Endocrine Society of Australia.

The recommendations contain specific guidance for people considered at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, for example those with naturally very dark skinned, who live largely indoors, who have conditions causing poor absorption of calcium and vitamin D, or who cover up for religious or cultural reasons.

Cancer Council’s latest National Sun Survey found that nearly one in three Australian adults were concerned about their vitamin D levels. However, most Australians are not vitamin D deficient, and experts agree that adequate vitamin D can be obtained without harmful levels of UV exposure. Our position statement confirmed that spending longer in the sun does not cause vitamin D levels to continue to increase but definitely does increase the risk of skin cancer. Hence extended and deliberate sun exposure without any form of sun protection when the UV Index is 3 or above is not recommended, even for people diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency.

Outdoor workers unprotected

An estimated 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers and 200 melanomas each year are caused by workplace exposure to UV radiation.

New Cancer Council research released in October 2015 showed around half of all workers who spend time outside are missing out on sun protection, putting them at increased risk of skin cancer. Our research found only one in two outdoor workers were provided with sunscreen, and only two in five were provided with hats.

Over 2.5 million Australians spend half or more of their working time outdoors, yet only half of the survey respondents who work outdoors said their workplace had a sun protection policy in place. The results showed there had been only a minimal increase in reported workplace sun protection policies in the 10 years since our first survey.

The data, from our National Sun Protection Survey, was released during National Safe Work Month (October 2015) as a reminder to Australian employers of their duty of care to protect employees from harmful UV radiation. We cautioned that unless employers do more now there is likely to be a continuing increase in workplace-related skin cancer cases and an increasing number of workplace compensation claims.

UV radiation 'all adds up'

New data from Cancer Council’s National Sun Survey released in November 2015 showed that about half of all Australian adult sunburns on a weekend occur during everyday activities – like gardening, chores around the house or socialising in the backyard.

This was higher than the number of people sunburnt while at the beach, lake or pool (29%), or while playing sport or involved in other active recreation during the weekend (21%).

In response, Cancer Council and the Australasian College of Dermatology joined forces during National Skin Cancer Action Week in 2015 (14–21 November) to remind Australians that when it comes to damage from UV radiation, 'it all adds up' – whether by accident or attempts to tan. Repeated overexposure to UV and sunburn increase the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.

Read more about our National Skin Cancer Action Week activities in Sharing information.

Advocacy for sun protection standards

Shadecloth is widely used to provide protection from the sun for people outdoors, in various settings including schools and childcare centres, public swimming pools and sporting grounds, workplaces and homes. When used effectively it can significantly reduce UV radiation exposure.

In 2015 Standards Australia commenced a review of the standard for evaluation and classification of shadecloth. The existing standard was developed in 1994 and is limited to shadecloth use in the agricultural and horticultural industries, whereas now shadecloth is also widely used for human protection.

The new standard will include a revision of the material testing methods and classifications and will include a UV protection factor rating for shadecloth material, similar to that used for sun protection clothing.


This page was last updated on: Friday, October 21, 2016