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Skin cancer in Australia: What are the risks and how to protect yourself

Source: Getty Images/Matteo Colombo

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Most skin cancers, including melanoma, occur after damage to skin cells from unprotected exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from the sun.

Cristiane Holman-Lee was born in Brazil and grew up in Italy. She moved to Australia eight years ago and now lives in Brisbane.

She finds the sun in Australia a lot harsher than it is in Italy.

“This sun in Australia is super-strong, compared with the one in Italy. In Italy, it’s much more gentle, but down here, it’s very, very strong, so that’s why I never go in the sun here. I’m always under the umbrella, or even if I’m walking, I always choose to stay in the shadow of the trees. I don’t like the sun here. It’s too strong for me.”

Australia also has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, of the Australians living with cancer in 2017-18, nearly one in three had skin cancer, making this the most common type of cancer.

So, what is the reason behind the high rate of skin cancer in Australia?

David Whiteman is the Group Leader at the Cancer Control Group and Deputy Director of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. He says a combination of factors is behind a high skin cancer prevalence in Australia.

“In the Southern Hemisphere, our country is located at fairly low latitudes, so the amount of sunlight that hits the ground in Australia is much higher than in Europe and Northern Asia and other parts of the world, like North America, so there is a lot of UV radiation striking the Earth’s surface where we live.”

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