Top 5 skin cancer myths debunked as Vic heads into peak UV season

Monday 6 October, 2014

As the UV levels begin to rise across the state, skin cancer experts gathered in Melbourne today to debunk the myths about sun protection and cancer at the launch of a new book designed to set the record straight.

Two in three Australians will develop skin cancer before the age of 70, with six new cases of melanoma − the deadliest form of skin cancer − diagnosed every day in Victoria.

Sun, Skin and Health is a definitive guide on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.

Sun, Skin and Health editor and Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee, Terry Slevin, said the book would address some of the myths and misconceptions about skin cancer.

“Just scratch the surface of almost any issue on skin cancer and you find complexities and more than a few controversies – the science is constantly evolving and we know a lot more now than we did 30 years ago,” he said.

The top five myths are:

  1. MYTH: “They’re just a few spots that can be removed”
    : Skin cancers are so common that people have become complacent. Although 95% of skin cancers can be successfully treated if found early, skin cancer can be a life-threatening disease.
  2. MYTH: “All skin cancers are the same”
    False: Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) are by far the most common and least dangerous form of skin cancer, while squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are less common, but can spread to other parts of the body if they aren’t treated. Less common still, but far more likely to kill are melanomas, with 313 Victorians dying from melanoma in 2012. Even so, nationally a quarter (543 out of 2087) of all skin cancer deaths were due to non-melanoma skin cancers.
  3. MYTH: “You can’t get burnt on a cold or cloudy day”
    False: Many people mistakenly believe that they only need sun protection on hot, sunny days. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, not heat, is the major cause of sunburn, premature ageing, eye damage and skin damage leading to skin cancer. UV cannot be seen or felt. It’s not like the sun’s light which we see, or the sun’s warmth which we feel. So the best way to protect yourself is to check the sun protection times each day either in the weather section of the newspaper, on the Bureau of Meteorology or SunSmart websites or via the free SunSmart app.
  4. MYTH: “Using sun protection will lead to vitamin D deficiency”
    False: “We live in an extremely high UV environment where your skin can burn in just 11 minutes on a clear January day. Vitamin D deficiency is a legitimate concern for people who rarely see the sun, such as people who are infirmed or cover up for cultural reasons. But the rest of us in the southern parts of Australia should make enough vitamin D from September to April, without overexposing our skin to UV,” he said.
  5. MYTH: “Sunscreen is not safe”
    : “Rarely a summer goes by without a concern raised about the safety or efficacy of sunscreen. The truth is that regular use of sunscreen at any age has been found to reduce the risk of skin cancer (1). Those worried about nanoparticles can rest assured – there has been no reliable evidence to suggest that the concentrations of nanoparticles found in sunscreen products are harmful,” he said.

Mr Slevin said Sun, Skin and Health is required reading for anyone living under the Australian sun. The book covers a wide range of issues important to managing skin cancer in Australia including the origins of skin cancer, the factors that drive the strength of UV radiation, early detection and treatment of the major skin cancers and what to do after the disease.

There are also chapters on sunscreen, Vitamin D, eye health and the impact of the sun and what to look for in protective clothing and shade.

“This book is about understanding how to get the very best out of our sunny climate, while minimising the risk that is inherent in it.”

Sun, Skin and Health is available now through CSIRO Publishing.

For media and interview enquiries contact:

Laura Wakely, Media & Communications Adviser on 9514 6356 or 0429 406 423

Peta Dyke, Media & Communications Officer, 9514 6409 or 0498 178 938


(1) Hacker E, Boyce Z, Kimlin MG, Wockner L, Pollak T, Vaartjes SA, Hayward NK, Whiteman DC. The effect of MC1R variants and sunscreen on the response of human melanocytes in vivo to ultraviolet radiation