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Melanoma decline: We’re being more sun-smart and it shows

02 December, 2019
A man getting tested for Melanoma

We love our sun and outdoor living here in Australia, but we’re also exposed to one of the world’s highest rates of skin cancer. Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70, but what’s most shocking is that almost all cases are preventable.

The fact that there is so much room for improvement in sun safety statistics hasn’t gone unnoticed. More than three decades ago, the Cancer Council launched the iconic SunSmart campaign. In 1981, Sid the Seagull introduced households around the country to ‘Slip! Slop! Slap!’.  That translates to slipping on long-sleeved clothing, slopping on some sunscreen and slapping on a hat. Later, ‘sliding’ on some sunglasses and ‘seeking’ shade also became part of the mix, creating five simple measures of sun protection.


In the years since SunSmart launched, the campaign has taken on several formats, all delivering the same hard-hitting message. The Cancer Council believes that the long-running campaign has indeed changed attitudes and behaviours over time. As of October 2019, results of a longitudinal study appear to back this up.

What’s the latest news?

Melanoma diagnoses have dropped in younger Australians, who have been exposed to the SunSmart campaign potentially before damage had been done. A latest study looked at results from cross-sectional summer surveys from 1987 to 2017, among Melbournians. The reported sun protection behaviour among those surveyed over a period of three decades shows a significant and sustained improvement.

In particular, relatively few respondents had used sunscreen in the summer before the SunSmart program commenced. By the 2010s, use of sunscreen had increased by nearly fivefold. We’re also now seeing significantly less incidences of sunburn than the baseline figures from before the campaign.

The findings from the study are thought to contribute towards the decline in melanoma diagnoses.

What does this mean for me?

What it means is – the recommended sun protection measures appear to be working, so keep doing them! And in fact, follow them more closely. The study authors still believe that our use of adequate sun protection behaviours is “less than ideal”. There is still room for improvement on following all five recommended prevention behaviours given that more than 2,000 Australians still die from skin cancer each year.

The latest SunSmart campaign, to coincide with National Skin Cancer Action Week this November is focused on #OwnYourTone. It encourages young people to use all five forms of sun protection, and changing attitudes towards tanning behaviours.

The Cancer Council Australia also emphasise that knowing your skin well and identifying any earlly changes is critical. The recommended advice is to consult your GP immediately if you notice anything on your skin that’s new or changing. Read more on what to look for and how to do a skin self-check.

CBHS Health Wellness Benefit Logo

Skin cancer screening with CBHS

Members of CBHS with an appropriate level of cover can claim for the cost of some skin cancer screening tests through the Wellness Benefits program. Our website has full details.

Note - CBHS provides benefits towards scans, screenings and tests, where members take a pro-active way to manage their health, but only where these do not attract a benefit from Medicare. We are only able to pay a benefit for selected scans, screenings and tests when they are NOT covered by Medicare. Your GP or provider will be able to advise you if your scan, screen or test, meets Medicare’s criteria for benefits.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified Health Care Professional.


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