Childhood sun exposure causing majority of skin cancers, report reveals

Childhood sun exposure has been found to cause the majority of non-melanoma skin cancers in adults, prompting calls by Cancer Council Queensland for improved sun safety across the state.

A new report from the 45 and Up Study, led by the University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW, found that basal cell carcinomas diagnosed later in life were most often the result of sun exposure during childhood and adolescence.

An estimated 70 per cent of all skin cancers diagnosed in Australia are basal cell carcinomas, with men more likely to be diagnosed than women.


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Cancer Council Queensland CEO Ms Chris McMillan said the study reinforced the urgent need to minimise the amount of UV radiation that children are exposed to and to reinforce SunSmart behaviours through the life course.

“In Queensland in particular, skin cancer continues to be a burning issue,” Ms McMillan said.

“An estimated 64 per cent of children report being sunburnt each year, putting themselves at serious risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

“Adequate sun protection is critical from an early age – with all five sun protective measures key to preventing this disease.

“We recommend Queenslanders slip on protective clothing, slop on sunscreen, slap on a broad-brimmed hat, seek shade, and slide on wrap-around sunnies when outdoors.

In Queensland alone, around 215,000 males and 128,000 females are treated for non-melanoma skin cancers each year.

Ms McMillan said early detection of skin cancer remained a core focus of Cancer Council’s work.

“Queenslanders need to get to know their own skin and see a GP straight away if anything changes in shape, colour, or size, or if anything new appears,” she said.

“It’s imperative that people are aware of their individual risks too – particularly for those with fair skin types, which burns more easily, and anyone with a family history of skin cancer.”