It is recommended to use sunscreen every day not just on trips to the beach.
It is recommended to use sunscreen every day not just on trips to the beach.

Why we’re the skin cancer capital again

AUSTRALIA has reclaimed the unenviable mantle of being the melanoma capital of the world, leapfrogging New Zealand.

In an unexpected result, Queensland research into the incidence of melanoma across the world, found rates of the deadly skin cancer in Australians had plateaued, and were falling in New Zealand.

Lead researcher and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute deputy director Professor David Whiteman said he was surprised by the results, because the last analysis three years ago suggested melanoma incidence would decline in both countries.

The study, published today in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, found about 50 in every 100,000 Australians were diagnosed with melanoma in 2014-15, the latest figures available, compared with 47 in every 100,000 New Zealanders.

Prof Whiteman said the main difference between the Australian and New Zealand populations was in the 60-plus age group.

While melanoma incidence was declining in the under-60s in both countries, rates were rising in Australians aged 60-plus.

New Zealand rates had stabilised in people aged 60 to 79 years, while the incidence continued to rise in the over-80 age group in both countries.

"We know melanoma rates will be higher in people aged 60 and over because those people sustained skin damage before safety awareness campaigns were introduced," Prof Whiteman said.

Sunscreen and a hat are recommended.
Sunscreen and a hat are recommended.

But he said studies showed it was important for people to continue using sunscreen every day into old age.

"It's never too late," Prof Whiteman said.

"The evidence suggests that daily use of sunscreen reduces the incidence of new skin cancers appearing.

"A lot of the effects of sunlight are cumulative. That means repeated exposures keep adding up and can trigger new mutations in the skin.

"They are compounding over time so that our cells accumulate lots and lots of unnecessary damage from the sun, and the more of those mutations you have, the more likely it is that the cells will be triggered and become cancerous.

"Sunscreen stops that from happening. It stops it at all ages.

"Most of us in our 50s and 60s would have damaged cells in our skin, but using sunscreen now will stop them becoming more and more damaged and therefore retard the growth of potential new cancers."

Prof Whiteman said sunscreen had the added benefit of slowing the rate at which the skin aged.

"You get fewer wrinkles," he said.

"The effects of sunlight on unprotected skin, particularly the Queensland summer sun, is just harsh and it destroys the elasticity of the skin.

"It destroys the collagen in the skin, it bursts blood vessels, so it makes the skin blotchy and blemished.

"(Sunscreen) doesn't turn back the clock, but it stops the skin ageing as quickly as it otherwise might."

Prof Whiteman said the study found melanoma rates in Denmark had also plateaued since 2011, a trend driven by declining rates among young people.

But the incidence continued to rise among caucasian populations in other parts of the world, including the UK, Sweden, Norway and Canada.

The researchers believe the fact melanoma rates are no longer rising in New Zealand, Australia and Denmark are a result of comprehensive sun protection campaigns and sun-bed regulations.

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