The use of simple practices has the ability to reduce the incidence of skin cancer and sun burns. The ‘SunSmart’ program that started in Melbourne, Australia has shown that the use of sun protection behaviours has the capability of protecting the population from UV exposure from the sun.
The sun emits ultraviolet radiation (UV) that can be harmful to the human body by the alteration of our DNA and its ability to damage our cells. Of concern, UV exposure has led to increased incidence of skin cancer such as melanoma, the most life-threatening form, and squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Additionally, it also leads to increased numbers of sunburns as sun tanning has become an increased practice used in society today.
As ultraviolet radiation is the main cause of skin cancer, areas around the world with high ambient UV exposure and susceptible skin types can cause the incidence of this type of cancer to be prevalent, causing death and use of financial resources towards treatment. Areas such as those in Oceania are exposed to this high UV radiation, particularly Australia.
In a recent study published in PLOS Medicine, reported on a 30-year study conducted in Melbourne, Australia by the Cancer Council Victoria. The study started spanned 1987-1988, just prior to the commencement of the ‘SunSmart’ program, a community-wide skin cancer prevention program that was implemented in 1988. This program was acknowledged in its ability to raise public awareness, promote preventative behaviours and environmental change for skin cancer prevention. These include the use of wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, wearing skin covering clothing, and staying under the shade while outdoors. Along with this, minimising time spent outside during peak UV exposure (i.e. between 11am and 3pm) was also recommended. Data was collected across three subsequent decades (1988-2017) during the summer months from residents between the ages of 14 and 69 years. The participants were recruited to report their preferences towards tanning, sun protection methods, and the occurrences of sunburns, based on the previous weekend’s activities. After their reports, the participants underwent a telephone interview within 2 to 4 days of their reports to verbally report their behaviours and attitudes, and to maintain the validity of the study.
Based on the results, it was shown that the use of the ‘SunSmart’ program showed improvements towards participants’ behaviours and attitudes towards sun exposure and skin cancer. The study found that most participants had skin that was moderate to highly sensitive to sunburns and based on the data collected there was a decrease in the incidence of sunburns in the participants. Along with this, their preventative attitudes and beliefs towards suntans increased in all decades. The use of preventive behaviours led to long-term reduction of UV exposure in participants and the use of sunscreen, shade, clothing, hats, and staying indoors during peak hours; all of which provide UV protection. This also corresponded to the younger age groups having lower incidence rates of melanoma.
The use of these protective behaviours and changes in attitudes towards sun tanning has resulted in reductions in the amount of UV exposure to participants in the ‘SunSmart’ program. This program has also reduced the burden of skin cancer and sunburns, leading to lower costs of treatment from the healthcare system. The study suggests that the ‘SunSmart’ program has benefitted the lives of those susceptible to skin cancer in Australia and has the potential to help those globally by the use of simple preventative practices.
Written by P. Sukumar
Tabbakh, T., et al. (2019). Implementation of the SunSmart program and population sun protection behaviour in Melbourne, Australia: Results from cross-sectional summer surveys from 1987 to 2017. PLOS Medicine.
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