Vic teens in denial of skin cancer risks

Thursday 24 November, 2011

Victorian teens are in denial about their risk of skin cancer and are using less than adequate sun protection despite the high incidence of melanoma in young people, according to new Cancer Council Victoria research released today, during National Skin Cancer Action Week.

The study revealed that 62% of males and 50% of females aged 12 to 17 years perceived their risk of skin cancer as low – this is despite two in three people getting skin cancer before they are 70 in Australia.

SunSmart Manager Sue Heward said males might consider themselves at lower risk of skin cancer because they were less likely than their female peers to want a tan.

"Even though nationally we know fewer teens report they like to get a tan (down to 45% from 60% in 2003), 12 to 17 year old girls in Victoria are still more likely to want a tan, compared with boys (38%). However across Australia, both sexes are failing to protect themselves adequately in the sun with less than a quarter (24%) of all 12 to 17 year olds using two or more sun protection measures. And we know that lifetime risk is higher for males – according to latest statistics, nearly twice as many Victorian men die from melanoma as women.

"There is no such thing as a safe tan. Tanning is a sign your skin cells are in trauma whether you tan deliberately or not, and increases your risk of skin cancer."

The research was released today at the launch of SunSmart's summer 2011 campaign at Parliament House, in the presence of Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess of Denmark. The Crown Princess is a long-time ambassador of the Danish cancer society's sun safe campaign and earlier this year was the patron of the first International Conference on UV and Skin Cancer Prevention in Denmark, co-sponsored by Cancer Council Victoria.

The Premier Ted Baillieu said "This campaign will send a clear message to Victorians that excessive exposure to the sun can be dangerous, unhealthy and potentially life-threatening."

As part of the campaign the story of Wes Bonny, a 26-year-old man who died from melanoma last year, will be shown in Victoria for the first time.

"Wes didn't actively seek a tan but like many young Aussie guys he spent a great deal of time outdoors, playing sport and hanging out with mates. We only hope that his story will serve as a wake-up call to young people to take sun protection seriously, so no other family has to endure the same tragedy," said Mr Vaughan Bonny, Wes's brother.

The successful Dark Side of Tanning advertisements will also run for the third summer in Victoria reminding Victorians of the severity of melanoma and that there is no such thing as a healthy tan.

"The Dark Side of Tanning campaign was seen by eight in 10 young people in 2010 and 82% of males and 87% of females aged 12–17 reported the ads made them more likely to protect their skin. Our 2011 campaign, with both Wes and Dark Side of Tanning, aims to remind people of the dangers of tanning and really focus on the susceptibility of young people to melanoma, reminding them of the importance of sun protection."

Ms Heward said the SunSmart message remains important for all Victorians, whatever your age.

"In Victoria alone 401 people will die from skin cancer each year – this is more than the state's annual road toll. It's never too late to protect yourself whether you are 6, 16 or 60. Check the sun protection times each morning at or on your phone using the free SunSmart app and make sure that you're prepared for the day ahead. "

For more information on skin protection, UV and skin cancer, visit

Survey Results: Tanning attitudes and behaviour

  • In Melbourne, over half (56%) of teens perceived their risk of skin cancer as low and males were especially likely to see their risk as low (62% vs. 50%).
  • In Melbourne overall 51% of 12–17 years said they liked to get a tan – however there are large gender differences with almost twice as many 12–17 year old females said they like to get a tan compared with males at the same age (65% vs. 38%).
  • Less than one quarter (24%) of adolescents reported using two or more of the five recommended sun protection measures – slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.
  • The Dark Side of Tanning campaign was seen by eight in 10 Melbourne teens and has had a positive impact on sun protection attitudes with more than 82% of boys and 87% of girls saying seeing the ads made them more likely to protect their skin.

The National Sun Protection Survey was conducted during Summer 201011 with 1,367 Australians (396 Melbourne residents) aged 12 to 17 years. The telephone survey collected data on sun protection knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.