Sunscreen anyone? Skin cancer rates revealed
A new international study has found that Australia has the world’s second highest rate of skin cancer diagnoses.
“The results… showed New Zealand as the nation with the highest incidence and likelihood of melanoma per capita, closely followed by Australia, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway,” said the researchers from DermaPlus.
“These outcomes are indicative that a high level of UV exposure, coupled with a lighter skin tone… led to a higher diagnosis of skin cancer. The US and the UK came in ninth and tenth place respectively, with Ireland close behind in fourteenth position.”
Worldwide, skin cancer claims a life every 10 minutes, while about two thirds of Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70.
A new report released by the Australian Institue of Health and Welfare reveals that rates of melanoma have doubled since 1982, however “the good news” is that rates have dropped in people under the age of 40.
CEO of the Cancer Council, Professor Sanchia Aranda believes that this drop is due to the strong skin cancer prevention campaign in Australia.
“We’re more aware, but we’ve still got a big problem,” Aranda says. “The drop in melanoma is great news but we can’t rest on our laurels. There are still many teenagers who have this idea that a tan is healthy.”
This is despite extensive research which says that a tan denotes DNA damage.
There are adults who think a tan is healthy too, including celebrity chef Pete Evans who, among other controversial comments, revealed that he keeps an “year-round tan” (but, aims to never get burnt).
“One of the good things [Evans’ said in his diatribe] is that people put on sunscreen and think they can stay out in the sun,” Aranda says. “You can’t do that.”
Rather, she says, we need to embrace sun-smart behaviours. According to the Cancer Council these behaviours are not just to slip, slop, slap, but also to ‘slide’ (the “cool” new, updated catchphrase to include wearing sunglasses or slide right out of the direct sunlight altogether).
“We see sunscreen as an adjunct to that,” Aranda says.
Although Aranda says she understands people’s concerns about the “increased use of any kind of chemical”, by adopting sun-smart behaviours, people will naturally rely less on sunscreen alone.
Additionally, she points out that since the invention of nanoparticles in sunscreen, which means they can rub in rather than sit like thick, daggy zinc on top of the skin, more people are using sunscreen.
“The uptake has been one of the things behind the reduced melanoma rates,” Aranda says. “All the research has demonstrated its safety – that’s why the TGA has approved [nanoparticles]… we have one of the tightest and safest regulatory systems in the world. The public should rest assured.”
Chemical or physical sunscreen?
There are two types of sunscreen we can use: chemical or physical.
“The chemical or organic sunscreens absorb UV light while physical sunscreens mainly reflect it,” explains Emma Hobson from the International Dermal Institute.
“Frequently, both types are used in combination for optimum effect in a product.
“You could think of organic filters as sponges, mopping up the UV radiation, and inorganic filters as mirrors, bouncing UV straight back off the skin.”
Some people believe that physical (often the thicker style of sunscreen) is safer, however according to the Australasian College of Dermatologists’ position statement: “There is currently no scientific evidence demonstrating long-term side effects including any hormonal effects, following regular use of sunscreen.”
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