The declining rate of melanoma among young people is proof of the success of Australia’s sun safety message.
The melanoma rate is plummeting among the slip, slap, slop generation, according to an 18-year study of teenagers and young adults.
It shows the effectiveness of the sun safety messages, says research leader Professor Adele Green.
“It’s been one of the most successful cancer prevention campaigns,” says Prof Green, whose team reviewed melanoma cases among 15 to 24 year olds in Queensland from 1982 to 2010.
The success would be similar for the rest of Australia, says Prof Green, who has spent more than three decades studying skin cancer at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland.
“These are the young people who have been exposed to the sun safe message and early detection programs since birth.”
Despite the fall, Queensland still has the highest rate of melanoma in the world.
Prof Green is an early pioneer of sun safety research and in 2013 was named the most influential woman in Australia by Westpac and the Financial Review Group.
She is also the 2013 Queensland Australian of the Year and is honoured in a display at the Australian High Commission in London.
There has been a five per cent a year decline among teenagers and young adults from the mid-1990s to 2010, according to the study published online in the International Journal of Cancer.
For people aged 20 to 24, the rate has fallen from 25 cases per 100,000 in 1996 to 14 per 100,000 in 2010.
The study follows data published by the institute in April that shows a fall in the most common skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, among people aged up to 45.
“This shows the improvements are broader than just the adolescents and young adults in the melanoma study,” says Prof Green.
“The effectiveness of the sun safe message is up there with the anti-smoking and the asbestos campaigns.
“I am convinced we can make people much healthier and happier if we prevent chronic diseases rather than treat them.
“The culture is changing. Australians know the sun is dangerous as well as wonderful,” she says.
Cancer Council CEO Professor Ian Olver described the sun safe message as an excellent example of a public health campaign.
“Australia is known for its high rate of melanoma, but it has been able to lead the world in prevention.
“We are into the second generation with the sun smart message. The important thing is to keep the message going.
“This is not a time to relax just because it is working.”