Daily sunscreen use may cut melanoma rate

Sunscreen study
Sunscreen study

Melanoma cases could fall by about a third if Australians slap on sunscreen every day, a study has found.

New modelling by researchers estimates that 28,071 fewer melanomas would be diagnosed if people regularly used sunscreen to protect their skin from UVB and UVA rays that can cause the potentially deadly cancers.

The researchers from the Brisbane-based QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute estimated that melanoma cases could fall by up to 34 per cent by 2031 if people applied sunscreen daily, with older Australians potentially the most likely to benefit.

"The burden of melanoma is highest in the older population, so the most effective sunscreen intervention in the short term to reduce melanoma was within that population," the head of QIMR Berghofer's Cancer Control Group, Professor David Whiteman, said on Wednesday as the study was published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

"However, that only holds true if we assume the benefits of sunscreen use have an immediate and equal effect across all the age groups we looked at."

Australia has one of the world's highest rates of melanoma, with an estimated 14,000 people diagnosed with the most serious form of skin cancer during 2017.

Prof Whiteman said with melanoma rates on the rise worldwide, it made sense to study the potential benefits of something as simple as regular sunscreen use.

His team of researchers modelled a range of hypothetical scenarios to work out the potential impact sunscreen could have on reducing melanoma cases.

They included a "best case" example of every Australian using sunscreen daily, as well as mandatory sunscreen use for people aged 45 to 65 and all school children.

However, Prof Whiteman said that while sunscreen can protect against melanoma, its use is hard to monitor.

"Even if participants in a study were to say they applied sunscreen every day, we know that there are differences in the amount of sunscreen a person uses," he said.

Many Australians have also become confused about the safety of sunscreen, with statistics released by the Cancer Council last October showing that the number of adults who recognise it's safe to use sunscreen every day had dropped to 55 per cent from 61 per cent in 2014.

Many were worried about possible health effects from some sunscreen ingredients, while some expressed concern about how regular sunscreen use could reduce their vitamin D levels.