Skin cancer is mainly caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun and other sources such as solaria and sunlamps.
Anyone in Australia can develop skin cancer but the risk is increased for people who:
- are exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) during childhood and adolescence
- have repeated exposure to UVR over their lifetime
- have episodes of severe sunburn
- have a light complexion (red or fair hair; blue or green eyes; skin that burns easily, freckles and doesn’t tan)
- are older
- have had a previous non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC)
- have a personal or family history of melanoma
- have a large number of moles
- have unusual types of moles (eg dysplastic naevus)
- are immunosuppressed (including organ transplant recipients)
Children and adolescents
The more children are exposed to UVR, the greater their risk of developing skin cancer later in life 1. Sun exposure, particularly during the first 15 years of life, has a significant contribution towards lifetime risk of developing skin cancer2.
It is estimated that 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers and 200 melanomas are caused by sun exposure in the workplace each year. 3 Spending large amounts of time outside during peak ultraviolet radiation periods, over a long length of time, increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
To reduce your risk of skin cancer, protect yourself in 5 ways:
- Seek shade
- Put on a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears
- Wear sun protective clothing that covers as much of your body as possible. Long sleeved shirts with a collar, and longer style pants or skirts are good for sun protection. Fabric of clothing needs to have a tight weave and be darker in colour to increase your protection from ultraviolet radiation
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses
- Apply SPF50+ broad spectrum water resistant sunscreen liberally to clean dry skin, at least twenty minutes before being exposed to the sun, and reapply at least every two hours when outdoors
For further information about skin cancer and outdoor work see the Cancer Council Australia website.
1 World Health Organisation, UV Radiation and Health, 2003
2 Armstrong, B. K. (1997) Melanoma: childhood or lifelong sun exposure. In Epidemiology, Causes and Prevention of Skin Diseases. Blackwell Science Ltd.
3 Cancer Council Australia media release, 20 November 2007