Influencing sun protection behaviour: lessons from Australia

The National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026, published last year recommends that the Department of Health to “the develop a national skin cancer prevention plan and oversee its implementation as a priority. The plan will prioritise children, outdoor workers, sunbed users and those who pursue outdoor leisure activities”

With Ireland facing increased incidence of skin cancers year on year and trends showing that this will continue to grow, the Irish Cancer Society invited Craig Sinclair to share key learnings on skin cancer prevention work in Australia, which was the first country in the world to show improvement in skin cancer rates.

Craig Sinclair is the Director of the World Health Organisation’s Collaborative Centre for UV Radiation and Head of Cancer Prevention at the Cancer Council Victoria, Australia, and chair of the World Meteorological Organisation’s UV Scientific Advisory Group.

Sinclair shared insights into how Australia developed public awareness campaigns that changed behaviour and attitudes sufficiently to reduce skin cancer rates campaigns.  These campaigns included the following elements:

  • SunSmart primary school programme for kids
  • Positive changes in the environment – lead by local governments developing shade structures
  • Role modelling – beach lifeguards for example covered up by wearing hats, long sleeves and sunscreen
  • TV campaigns -30 years of government funding, delivering a strong, consistent public health messages about the UV radiation
  • Legislative support– supporting tax-free sunscreen, tax-deductible status for sun protection items (hats, glasses) for outdoor worker’, and changes to employment law to ensure provision of protective equipment and protection
  • Commercial sunbeds – banned outright in 2015

Australia is now seeing a downward trend in melanoma cases in younger age groups which, he says, is the result of 30 years of public awareness campaigns.

“The public health messages about the dangers of exposure to natural and artificial UV has been learnt by the “SunSmart generation” but only after decades of consistent investment in a country-wide effort to defeat melanoma., ” says the ISF’s David McMahon.  “This is what is needed in Ireland if we are serious about tackling skin cancer”.

Sinclair says that skin cancer prevention can affect skin cancer/melanoma incidence. Also the Government needs to be persuaded that prevention is a good investment and with cost benefits for the health system generally – better data needs to be collected to provide hard evidence of the overall cost of skin cancer in Ireland.

Two economic evaluations were carried out in Australia:

  1. Impact of skin cancer on a Victorian public hospital system showed that skin cancer costs Victoria 30 times more to treat than prevent. Skin cancer treatment costing $9.20-$10.39 per head versus public funding for skin cancer prevention at 0.37 cents per head 1.
  2. Economic evaluation of future skin cancer prevention in Australia. SunSmart program has prevented 103.000 skin cancers and over 1000 deaths between 1988-2004. Cost of prevention 0.29cents per capita compared to 8.97 per capita costs. For every $1 invested, yields $2.30 in return 2.

We don’t have the benefit of equivalent studies in Ireland, but we do now know that based on current Irish trends the human and financial burden of skin cancer is only going to get worse – perhaps significantly worse.  The Government can do far more, sooner and with more energy to save lives and prevent cancer if we follow Australia’s lead.

We want everyone in Ireland to learn to Protect & Inspect their skin! Download our short guide, written with hospital-based dermatologists, to checking your skin.   

Melanoma is on the rise in Ireland: see the facts in these info-graphics – Melanoma Skin Cancer and Solar UV Radiation

More about skin type from the British Association of Dermatologists

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