Who is at Risk of Skin Cancer?

Did you know Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world? And here in Western Australia, we have the second-highest rate of skin cancer in the country.

Skin cancer is mostly caused by excessive exposure UV (ultraviolet) radiation from the sun. By reducing your exposure using five simple steps (linked to Five Ways to Protect page) you can significantly reduce your chance of developing skin cancer.

So why are rates of skin cancer so high in Australia? Firstly, let us point out it’s not due to the hole in the ozone layer. It’s mainly due to geography and genetics.

From a genetic perspective, many of us have fair-skinned ancestors from much colder climates, and as a result, we lack pigmentation that provides a level of protection from UV exposure. Having dark skin, however, does not give a guarantee of never having skin cancer. While skin cancers are rarer in people with darker skin pigmentation, such as Aborigines, they still can develop. This is why it is crucial that everyone has regular skin checks (link to skin check page).

Geographically, the closer you are to the equator, the more solar radiation that hits the ground, therefore increasing UV exposure. So our proximity to the tropics and equator results in Australia getting more UV than places closer to the Antarctic and Arctic. WA also has the added bonus of having some of the cleanest air in the world. The low level of air pollution also means more UV light reaches the ground in WA that in similar latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere.

Anyone at any age can develop skin cancer, but given the genetic and geographic factors in skin cancer prevalence, you are more likely to develop skin cancer if you have:

  • Fair skin that does not tan, or burns easily
  • Fairer coloured eyes – blue or green
  • Fair hair – blonde or red
  • Freckly skin
  • Lots of moles or sunspots
  • Spent a lot of time in the sun (work or leisure)
  • Been sunburnt in the past
  • Grew up in Australia
  • Have a personal or family history of skin cancer

As the old saying goes “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, so while taking steps to reduce your UV exposure, it is essential that all Australians have regular skin checks for early skin cancer diagnosis and removal so we can reduce skin cancer-related deaths.

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