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Skin cancer rates drop for first time

A QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute study has shown that, for the first time, rates of non-melanoma skin cancer are dropping among younger Australians.

The study, led by QIMR Berghofer’s Professor David Whiteman, considered Medicare data from millions of Australians from 2000-2010.

While the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer continued to increase markedly in older Australians during that period, the data showed the first recorded drop in Australians aged under 45: down 1.5% a year; more than 10% over the decade.

In that same period, the number of younger Australians having skin checks or biopsies increased.

“We’ve shown that younger people are more aware of skin cancer, are having more checks for skin cancer, and are recording fewer cases of skin cancer,” Professor Whiteman said.

“Finally, the sunsafe message is having results. The generation exposed to the message of Slip, Slop, Slap since childhood is the first to see the real benefits of the campaign.

“We always knew it would take that long, because skin cancers form about 30 years after sun exposure. But it’s both exciting and a relief to finally see these figures.”

The figures showed an annual drop of 4% per year in Australians aged 5 to24; 2% in those aged 25 to 34 and 1.5% in Australians under 45.

“Apart from the obvious benefits for their own health, such a trend could have an enormous impact on the health system. Conservative estimates suggest skin cancer costs the Australian health system more than $500 million a year in direct costs alone,” Professor Whiteman said.

However, skin cancer rates were still on the rise among older Australians.

“This is still worrying. Obviously a lot of this sun damage was done decades ago, but it is never too late to take steps to prevent further sun damage,”

Professor Whiteman also runs QSkin, a research project following 43,000 Queenslanders for 10 years to develop a full picture of skin cancer trends and costs. For more information, visit the website:

This research is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and available to view at