Skin Cancer, Melanoma Awareness, Sun Safety
In this article, we look at the reasons young Australians are being affected by skin cancer, the statistics, stories and risk factors and importantly, how you can help protect the young people in your life.
It’s a common misconception that skin cancer such as melanoma only affects ‘old people’ – and it’s true that most melanomas are found in people aged 50 years or older1. But younger people can also get skin cancer and unfortunately, they do.
What’s really shocking is that melanoma is the most common cancer affecting 15 to 39-year-old Australians2. In fact, it’s predicted that every year, an average of 1,700 Aussies will die from melanoma of the skin - that is one Australian every five hours3, including younger people. In the US, melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women aged 25 to 30 years.
Melanoma and other skin cancers are treatable if diagnosed early, but if the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, they can be fatal.
So, no matter what your age, the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma needs to be taken seriously.
Image: Educate your kids about the risks of prolonged sun exposure and protect them from the sun at all times.
Dear melanoma’ - Emma’s story
If you need further proof of the risk of the dangers of skin cancer in young people, watch this video. Diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma at just 21 years of age, Emma Betts created ‘Dear Melanoma’ a blog to raise awareness of the risk of melanoma in young people, before she passed away last year.
Today’s sun exposure: tomorrow’s skin cancer
While melanoma is rare in children and teenagers, getting sunburnt as a young person can ‘lay the groundwork’ for skin cancers in later life, including melanoma.
In fact, the latest research shows that sun exposure in childhood gives a greater risk of melanoma than sun exposure in later life4. And it all adds up – recent Australian research shows that the more time you spend unprotected in the sun – even for short bursts - the higher your risk of melanoma.5
It’s vital to be vigilant about protecting your children, teens and young adults from the sun at all times – and by educating them about the risks of prolonged sun exposure and indoor tanning. No one wants to get skin cancer, at any age.
Image: getting sunburnt as a child, adolescent or young adult can increase the odds of getting skin cancer in later life
Young people and melanoma – a growing health crisis?
Younger adults often spend more time in the sun and tend to participate in outdoor activities more than older age groups say experts. Many young adults still believe that a tan makes them look better and that they’re “invincible”. Worse still, many adolescents and young people are refusing to wear sunscreen and to wear a hat in the scorching sun.
As this video shows, Australian doctors are predicting that in five or ten year’s time, we’ll be facing a health crisis, when more and more young people are likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer.
So who is most at risk of skin cancer?
Whether young or old, some people have a higher melanoma risk due to factors such as skin type or family history. If your skin colour is light or pale, your hair colour is red or blonde, you burn easily, your skin is already sun damaged, you’ve used sunbeds, and/or you have a larger number of moles (particularly funny-looking moles), your risk level is higher.
However, having olive or darker skin (and darker hair) doesn’t give you a pass from the risk of skin cancer. While darker-skinned people have a much lower chance of getting melanoma, they often have thicker (more serious) melanomas once they’re detected6.
And anyone with a personal or family history of melanoma is at greater risk too. If a close relative (such as a parent, grandparent, sibling or child) has had melanoma – or if you’ve had a melanoma removed – your risk is much higher.
If you’re not sure what your risk level is, take our 1-minute risk check here.
Image: Younger people are more likely to have greater UV exposure due to sun-seeking behaviour.
A sun tan means sun damage, at any age.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no such thing as a ‘healthy tan’. In fact, did you know that having just five or more sunburns can double your risk of melanoma7 in later life.
In fact, the World Health Organization has identified solar UV radiation as a proven carcinogen, with studies linking it to about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas, as well as premature skin aging7.
It’s easy to think you’re bullet-proof and skin cancer-proof when you’re young, but chances are that it will catch up with you later on. Younger people are more likely to have greater UV exposure due to sun-seeking behaviour and increased participation in outdoor activities.
If you feel you need a ‘glowing tan’, using fake tanning lotions has been proven to be a much better option. And if you are out in the sun, reduce your risk of sunburn by making sure you ‘slip, slop, slap, wrap’ and MoleMap.
Image: The more often you use sunbeds, and the younger you start using them, the higher your skin cancer risk.
Are tanning beds safe for young people?
In a word, no. Using tanning beds is not recommended at any age – to tan or to boost your Vitamin D levels. In Australia, commercial tanning beds have been banned in all states and territories since 2016 – for good reason. That’s because UV radiation (the radiation that causes a sunbed to give you a tan) is proven to increase your risk of melanoma and other skin cancers8.
The more often you use sunbeds, and the younger you start using them, the higher your skin cancer risk. What’s more, your skin will also age more quickly.
Emily’s story: a short journey with melanoma
UK teen, Emily Hayward was diagnosed with malignant melanoma (skin cancer) when she was just 17, after discovering a mole on her calf. Two years later, a scan revealed the cancer had returned and had spread to her lymph nodes, and later to her lungs, liver and brain.
Emily shared her journey through her own YouTube channel, as she wanted to show the raw side of cancer: the side that isn’t usually documented. Emily didn’t want to be defined by her diagnosis. She wanted to raise awareness of melanoma and to also show that you can still live life to the full while going through cancer treatment or facing a terminal diagnosis. "I've just got to live my life knowing that this could be it,” she said.
Emily passed away after a seven-year battle with melanoma, but not before she’d spread the word about the dangers of melanoma for young people to her thousands of followers.
How often should you get your skin checked?
Emily’s story is a frightening reminder that, no matter whether you’re young, old or somewhere in between, it’s a good idea to self-check your skin and moles regularly (at least every three months) - and the skin of your loved ones.
We also recommend having a Skin Check every one to two years if you’re low to moderate risk – or a Full Body MoleMap every year if you’re moderate to high risk. Not sure of your risk level? Take our quick risk check right now.
Don’t know what to look for? Check out this article on the early signs of melanoma and other skin cancers.
What happens if there is a mole of concern?
If an at-risk mole is diagnosed during your skin check, there are a couple of options. The dermatologist may recommend monitoring the mole to see if it changes over time, and you’ll be asked to come back for a further check in 3 to 6 months. If it needs immediate excision (removal), you’ll be referred to a specialist to have it removed.
Image: Apply a broad-spectrum SPF30+ sunscreen every day (even in winter months).
Skin cancer prevention tips – for any age
No matter whether you’re young, old or somewhere in between, it’s vital to use SunSmart measures when you’re out in the sun, even if it’s just for a few minutes. This not only helps to protects your skin from skin cancer, it’ll also help prevent wrinkles, sun spots and having skin that looks like leather in later life.
This includes applying a broad-spectrum SPF30+ sunscreen every day (even in winter months), wearing a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses and protective clothing when you’re in the sun, and reducing your sun exposure between 10am and 4pm during daylight savings months.
Your older self will thank you for it one day!
1,2,3. Melanoma Institute Australia: https://www.melanoma.org.au/understanding-melanoma/melanoma-facts-and-statistics/ 4. Skincancer.org: https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/ 5. Cancer.org: https://www.cancer.org.au/news/media-releases/one-in-two-aussie-sunburns-occur-during-everyday-activity.html 6. Skincancer.org: https://www.skincancer.org/blog/ask-the-expert-is-there-a-skin-cancer-crisis-in-people-of-color/ 7,8. World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/gho/phe/ultraviolet_radiation
Note: This quick questionnaire is designed to give you an idea of your personal skin cancer risk factors.
It isn’t intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis – please contact us if you have any questions about your skin cancer risk.
Subscribe to our newsletter!