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Secondary schools urged to save students from skin cancer

Monday 22 October, 2007

With melanoma the most common cancer in young people aged 12-24, secondary schools around the state are being encouraged to improve their sun protection and reduce the risk of skin cancer for students and staff.

A new Sun Protection Program developed specially for secondary schools was launched today by The Cancer Council Victoria in a bid to help schools protect students and staff from the harmful effects of UV radiation in sunlight.

Manager of The Cancer Council Victoria's skin cancer prevention program, Kylie Strong, says the sun protection message has been embraced by primary schools, but secondary schools have been slower to adopt sun protection policies.

"In Victoria, 84% of primary schools are members of the Cancer Council's SunSmart program, however only about a quarter of secondary schools have joined to date.

"The need for sun protection does not stop at the end of primary school.

"Whilst we acknowledge the great work being done with sun protection in some secondary schools across Victoria, it's important to encourage more secondary schools to develop and implement sun protection policies."

Ms Strong says the new program has been developed following extensive consultation with secondary schools.

"We recognise that teenagers are much more resistant to using sun protection. Schools have told us that some of the barriers around sun protection with adolescents include peer pressure and the desire for a tan.

"We also know that many secondary schools have experienced difficulties with enforcing hat wearing, because wearing sun protective hats is not seen as ‘cool' by older students."

"However, the evidence shows that sun exposure during childhood and adolescence contributes to skin cancer risk in later life, so sun protection is just as important at secondary school as primary school."

Ms Strong says the new Secondary School Sun Protection Program is more than just a ‘hat' policy, and covers 7 elements including clothing, shade, professional development for teachers and incorporating sun protection into the school curriculum.

"The program gives schools a range of options on how to make sure the school uniform or dress code provides sun protection. We believe it gives schools more options that are specific to the needs of adolescents.

"The new program has been developed with the assistance of a number of schools, who have told us what has worked and what hasn't, and encourages students to take responsibility for themselves rather than being directed," Ms Strong said.

Health and Well-being Co-ordinator at Aquinas College in Ringwood, Cheryl Kane, encouraged schools to address sun protection.

"Changing the student culture towards sun protection is easier than some schools might think."

"At Aquinas, we've found that giving students a genuine opportunity to be involved in making decisions works really well. Our students have had input into our school's sun protection policy, and they have come up with some creative and innovative ways to get the sun protection message out to other students."

"They've developed screen savers with sun protection themes that have been adopted across the school, and media studies students have developed ads to raise awareness about sun protection."

"We've found that embedding the sun protection message into things that are already happening in the school has been really effective, rather than developing new strategies that might not work."

Captain of the Victorian Bushrangers, Cameron White, and Sarah Edwards, Captain of the Spirit Victorian women's cricket team were on hand at the launch to help promote the sun protection message to students. The two cricketers will be working with the Cancer Council to encourage schools to help promote the importance of sun protection.

"As a fair skinned person who spends a lot of time in the sun, I know how important it is to protect my skin," said Bushrangers Captain Cam White.

"Skin cancer and sun protection are really important issues for everyone and I'd encourage school communities to make these issues a priority at their school," said Spirit Captain Sarah Edwards.