Minister Butler doorstop in Adelaide - 20 November 2022

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's doorstop on the Australian Government's new skin cancer campaign.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MEGAN VARLOW, DIRECTOR OF POLICY, CANCER COUNCIL AUSTRALIA: Welcome, everyone. Thanks for coming along this morning. My name is Megan and I'm the Director of Policy at Cancer Council Australia. I'd like to acknowledge the Kaurna people the traditional custodians of the lands on which we're meeting today and pay respect to their elders past and present and Aboriginal colleagues who are joining us this morning. It's my pleasure to welcome this morning Minister Mark Butler, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Dr Clare Tait President of the Australasian College of Dermatologists and John Clements who has a personal experience with skin cancer.

Today marks the start of National Skin Cancer Action Week. It’s an annual event that brings together Cancer Council and the Australasian College of Dermatologists to raise awareness among Australians about how they can reduce their risk of skin cancer. And so to kick us off this morning, I'd like to ask Minister Butler to say a few words.

MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Thank you Megan for the acknowledgement of country and thank you to Grange Surf Life Saving club for hosting us here on this beautiful spring day. It's a pleasure to be here with the college and also with the Cancer Council who for more than 60 years now has been proudly and quite fiercely advocating for better policy and better programs in cancer prevention and cancer treatment here in Australia.

Cancer of course is still the biggest killer of Australians every year, with 50,000 Australians losing their lives tragically to one form of cancer or the other. But it must be noted we've made enormous strides over the recent decades. And in no small part is that due to the work of the Cancer Council and advocating for those programs and policies, and working with clinicians and researchers, and other patient groups to achieve a point where Australia has the best cancer survival rates in the world. But there is much more for us to do, which is why the Government through Cancer Australia is working so hard with groups like Council and the colleges and others to develop a cancer plan to take us the next step forward and bring those prevention rates and those survival rates even better.

There's no other area where we could do better that's more obvious than skin cancer, because the way we lead the world in survival rates for cancer generally, unfortunately, and too often tragically, we also lead the world in skin cancer rates more broadly. Around two out of every three Australians will suffer from skin cancer at some point in their life. And in the table of cancers it is rising, not dropping in terms of its incidence across the country. Skin cancer is now the third most common form of cancer diagnosed in Australia after prostate and breast. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, kills around 2,000 Australians each and every year.

It is though perhaps the most easily preventable cancer and that's the work of the Cancer Council has been leading now for decades. It's been more than four decades since Cancer Council Victoria began Sid the Seagulls “slip, slop slap” campaign. But it was some years after that it actually was integrated into a broader public health campaign. People of my age, before that campaign was fully integrated, were spending time on beaches like this not with 50+ sunscreen on but instead with coconut oil or baby oil, seeking to effectively fry in the sun. It took some years for the sun smart message that the Cancer Council have been building over years really to become deeply embedded in this country. Obviously now Sid the Seagull has broadened his or her message, I'm not really sure, from just three actions to five. We also are encouraged to slide on sunglasses and seek out shade. But we can't do enough to continue to drive home that message. It is deeply embedded in the Australian psyche, the work of Sid the Seagull through the Cancer Council. We are sorted out for advice around the world as having the best practice public health campaigns in the area of skin cancer. But the rates that we still suffer from the number of Australians who still die from skin cancer reinforces the need for us to continue to draw on this message.

And that's why today, we're so delighted to announce a $10 million partnership with the Cancer Council. What I want to importantly say is it's not only a population wide message, it's also a message that’s targeting men of my age of between 40 and 59 who in so many areas of health care frankly, are the less disciplined we are the less discipline in good health behaviours to protect ourselves and putting on sunscreen and abide by all of those other messages. It is just another area where frankly men aged 40 to 59 need to do better. And that's why this campaign in many ways, is targeted at them. We're all desperate to join the fun in the sun after the months of poor weather that we've endured over recent times but this campaign is a reminder to be sun smart this summer. 

JOURNALIST: Can you talk us through how these $10 million investments will be spent?

BUTLER: Megan might add some further detail, but this really is a well-trodden path, the partnership between the Australian Government both political persuasions and the Cancer Council. This campaign will have a TV as element to it. But it will also run across social media and a range of other things really to drive home the important message. We all want to have some fun in the sun is summer after the months of poor weather we've endured, but we've got to be sun smart about it.

VARLOW: And from the Cancer Council perspective it's an integrated campaign. So as we've said, we'll have an ad on TV, but there's also having people through social media and other things. Integration with the cricket because we know that men particularly watch cricket and are not particularly sun smart so reminding them to do that in a bigger message.

JOURNALIST: Obviously, this is about saving lives but what toll does cancer present to the health system?

BUTLER: As I said, cancer broadly is still the biggest killer of Australians every year, in spite of the enormous strides that we've made to lift cancer survival rates, still 50,000 Australians lose their lives that was their fight against cancer every year. So, in spite of those really good strides we've made, there's so much more we need to do in prevention and improving survival rates and particularly in an area like skin cancer, where we lead the world in case numbers. There is so much to do in prevention. It is the most easily preventable of all cancers. So simple messages like this that the Cancer Council been promoting for more than 50 years must continue.

JOURNALIST: Do you mind talking to us about the UV? I know we mentioned earlier, it's actually surprisingly very high today.

VARLOW: It’s really interesting in Australia, unfortunately for most of the country, most of the year round, we do have days where the UV is above three. And so whenever that's the case, even when today it's cloudy and windy - as John mentioned, the UV is already four and it's predicted to get to 10 today, which is very extreme and so the difficult thing is it doesn't correlate necessarily with the feeling outside. It's something in this beautiful country that we live in, that is something that we really need to think about. And so there are the weather apps, there's the sun smart app and they all have the UV index. And so we really encourage people just to pay attention to it. And even if it looks like it does today, to put sunscreen on in the morning, and then take your hat, take yourselves with you so that you can protect yourself.

JOURNALIST: Is there any way I suppose of monitoring the success of these kinds of campaigns?

VARLOW: The Cancer Council run a very extensive evaluation campaign of our campaign work. And so what we look at is how many people have seen the campaign and that's really critical to success. It's not just a TV ad that's advertising something, but really supporting behaviour change. That's the sort of thing that we measure.

JOURNALIST: What have you noticed in the past from other campaigns, how have their behaviours changed?

VARLOW: I mentioned before that slip, slop slap is now inaccurate and something that everyone knows. And we do look, if you compare behaviour 40 years ago, that it is different to what it looks like. Now, there's been a really significant change certainly in the behaviour of Australians. It’s not just about protecting yourself when you're a kid, or when you're a teenager. As you get older, you need to continue to do that. And so that's really the message, we now have a whole generation of Australians who have grown up in sun smart schools who have had to wear a hat. It's about continuing that behaviour.

JOURNALIST: John are you able to describe what your skin cancer journey was?

JOHN CLEMENTS, SKIN CANCER SURVIVOR: As I indicated, when I was a kid, we'd run around the beach. And I can remember many times after being at the beach and getting sunburned. And these days, people would think that was badly sunburnt. go to school on Monday, and your mates would slap you on the back and make a joke of it. And the awareness with all these campaigns has improved. I was pretty blase about my health. And I had a pretty serious health issue when I was 50 and that turned my awareness around. These campaigns that have happened, this is not the first place to start a campaign has happened many, many, many times. And every time anybody says anything on TV, or on the radio, or the stobie pole it raises awareness.

JOURNALIST: And are you able to describe I guess, what was the first skin cancer that was detected?

CLEMENTS: I can't remember how or what but now we're so aware of noticing changes in skin tone. You notice a freckle on his face or on your arm, particularly in areas where you get a bit of some and you notice it and you're more aware of asking someone, going to the GP. People wait too long. Early detection is so important for all types of cancer.

JOURNALIST: Did you know what your diagnosis was from the start?

CLEMENTS: I had a bowel cancer diagnosis and that is probably the turning point that turned my health awareness around. It was around that time my first squamous cell carcinoma was cut out. Rather than waiting go and get it looked at as soon as you can.

JOURNALIST: Were you surprised to find that you had some of these, you know, spots that you’ve had to have cut off or removed?

CLEMENTS: Consequences happen because of the behaviour and it's not something we can change. So instead of looking back we need to look forward and be more conscious of it.

JOURNALIST: What is the response that you get from other guys?

CLEMENTS: I know it is a gross generalisation, but males are not as good as females about looking after themselves. That absolutely applies to the skin.  Blokes don't wear a hat, stay out in the sun and it’s certainly my peers, people, my age, and colleagues and so on and people I've worked with growing up exactly like I have, and I've got friends, less aware, and I've got friends that are probably more aware and more conscious of it. My friends and colleagues are a lot more aware now than we used to be for all the reasons that we've been talking about.

JOURNALIST: I know your example was talking about when you're a kid running around with the oil on. As an adult, do you think you were more careful or not careful?

CLEMENTS: We were certainly a lot more careful with our kids.

JOURNALIST: Can you give us as a bit of a scenario of what happens to your skin over time, for example, you know, it could be a tradie out on the worksite that don't have sunscreen on what's happening to their skin over the course of the day?

DR CLARE TAIT: So probably better to talk about what's happening with their skin over the course of months and years. There are two things that happen when we have too much sun. The first is particularly when you get sunburned, there are changes in DNA in the skin, and they can be the very first point of change into skin cancer. So we know that basal cell cancer, which is a common skin cancers in Australia, and melanoma, which is potentially one of the most dangerous skin cancers, the risk is very much related to sunburn. And as a young adult, that results also a risk of cumulative sun exposure.

So the spread of cell cancer, which is what we just talked about, with his own experience is related to cumulative exposure. So every time the sun is shining on the skin, the risk of cell cancer increases. I think one of the things that people don't realize about what the sun does is it suppresses the immune system in the skin. So we all have changes in our skin that may lead to skin cancer. But if our immune system of the skin is active and working well, it's constantly tracking and looking at those changes and trying to reverse them. But if our immune system in our skin isn't working, that process of what we call immune surveillance isn't working. So really every time we're going out and having the sun on our skin, we're allowing those changes that have happened earlier to have greater risk of developing into a skin cancer. So those are the two reasons why sun protection is so important - to prevent that DNA change, but also to keep our immune system healthy, so that it can track and try and reverse any changes that have happened. Accumulative sun exposure, this is a real issue.

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