Summer in Queensland is great. There’s a reason why southerners arrive here in their thousands every school holidays.
There’s endless sunshine and world-class beaches. The kids can be entertained for hours with nothing more than a swimming pool, a surfboard or some beach cricket. And we haven’t even started to talk about the fishing.
But there can be a downside to all this fun in the sun. New figures from Cancer Council Queensland’s Cancer Research Centre shows almost half of all childhood melanoma cases in Australia were diagnosed in Queensland over the past decade.
It means every second Australian kid diagnosed with melanoma lives in Queensland.
The Australian Pediatric Cancer Registry found that 96 children aged between 0 and 14 were diagnosed with melanoma in Australia between 2004 and 2013.
Although those numbers mean childhood melanoma is still considered to be a “rare” disease, the rates in Queensland are substantially higher than the rest of the country.
But there is some good news.
Drastic decline in childhood melanoma since the 90s
Katie Clift, from Cancer Council Queensland, said while more Queensland children were diagnosed with melanoma, the rates of childhood melanoma were decreasing across the country, including in the Sunshine State.
“We have seen a sharp decrease in the number of childhood melanoma cases in Australia since 1996. We have seen a total decrease of 71 per cent between 1996 and 2013,” Ms Clift said.
Ms Clift puts it down to very successful skin cancer prevention campaigns. These include the Slip, Slop, Slap message, which was introduced in the 1980s.
Prior to that, teenagers would often lather themselves in coconut oil and bake in the sun all day. They did this because they didn’t fully understand the potential deadly health consequences.
“Exposure in childhood increases the risk of skin cancer later in life. This is why it is vital that children are taught healthy SunSmart habits from a young age,” Ms Clift said.
While there have been great gains in the understanding of the dangers of too much sun, the message is still failing to get through to some people. For others, it’s something we know all too well, but the pressures of daily life sometimes mean we forget to pack the sunscreen or a hat, or are just having too much of a good time to realise it has been hours since we last re-applied sunscreen.
The latest figures show more than half a million children are sunburnt in Queensland every year. This means only about 1 in 20 Queenslanders protect themselves in five ways each summer.
“We recommend Queenslanders abide by all five sun protective recommendations: slip on protective clothing, slop on minimum SPF30 broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen, slap on a broad-brimmed hat, seek shade and slide on wrap-around sunnies when out and about,” Ms Clift said.
“Even in the shade, UV can reflect from surfaces such as sand, glass, brick and concrete. This is why it is important to still use a hat, clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses – and reapply sunscreen every two hours.”
And once you’re done making sure your kids are being sun smart, don’t forget to apply the same rules to yourself.
Remember, Queensland has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. It’s not a statistic you want to add to.
Tips for keeping kids sun smart
Other ways you can help keep your children safe from the sun include:
- Choose clothing and baby wraps made from cool, densely-woven fabric that isn’t too tight and still allows air flow
- Darker colours generally offer more protection than lighter colours
- Use rashies or t-shirts for outdoor swimming. If using a t-shirt, don’t forget to change it when your child gets out of the water. This is because dry t-shirts have a tighter fabric structure than wet ones
- Apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply every two hours
- Remember to re-apply sunscreen after swimming or water play
- Pop sunscreen in the cooler section of the lunchbox so it will be cold when applying, it’s much more comfortable on a hot day
- Try a clip on sunscreen that hangs from your child’s bag to act as a visual reminder
- When travelling, use a shade visor or hang a blanket over the side windows in the car. Side and back windows don’t offer as much sun protection as the front windscreen.