Skin cancer is falling among younger Australians as the country reaps the long-term rewards of sun safety.
Study results released on Thursday show the first generation to grow up with the slip-slop-slap message has benefited from the campaign.
‘Finally, the sun-safe message is having results,’ says Professor David Whiteman, leader of a team that has reviewed millions of Medicare records from 2000 till 2010.
Recent surveys have reflected an improvement, but this is the first hard evidence, he says.
Non-melanoma skin cancer declined by more than 10 per cent among people aged 45 and younger during the period, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Previous separate research also shows a decline for melanomas, which are easier to keep track of because all cases are recorded in a register, says Prof Whiteman.
Non-melanoma skin cancers account for more than 97 per cent of cases in Australia and affect two out of three men in their life time.
People under 45 are the first generation exposed to the sun safety message since childhood and the first to experience real benefits, says Prof Whiteman of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland.
‘We knew it would take long, because skin cancers form about 30 years after sun exposure.
The study shows an annual drop of four per cent a year among people aged five to to 24.
The fall is two per cent for those aged 25 to 34 and 1.5 per cent for those up to 45.
The study shows the number of younger people having skin checks or biopsies has also increased.
We’ve shown younger people are more aware of skin cancer, are having more checks, and are recording fewer cases, Prof Whiteman says.
‘It’s both exciting and a relief to finally see these figures.’
Skin cancer is still on the rise among people aged older than 45, who are suffering as a result of exposure in their teens and 20s.
‘Obviously a lot of sun damage was done decades ago, but it is never too late to take steps to prevent further damage.’
Most cases of skin cancer occur in older people and will take decades for the the overall rate to start coming down, says Prof Whiteman.
We need to maintain our vigilance. Skin cancer is the number one cancer in Australia by far. It is the biggest financial drain of all cancers.