“The heartening news is the rates certainly aren’t climbing in Australia but we had hoped they’d be declining,” he said.
“Part of the reason they’re not is because of demographics, the proportion of older people in the population is continuing to grow.”
“As those people are getting older they’re acquiring more melanomas, so we’re seeing melanomas arising now which actually have their origins four or five decades ago before the sun smart campaigns really started.”
Dr Whiteman said in more encouraging news melanoma rates among younger people were declining, creating a “two-speed” set of rates.
He said sun-smart campaigns definitely were the reason for that, and an indication that we couldn’t get complacent about sun safety.
Cancer Council Australia chief executive Sanchia Aranda agreed with that sentiment, and said ensuring younger Australians did not ignore sun safety was a major focus for them.
“Any day you go down to a beach and look at what people who are on the beach many are still engaging in risky behaviours,” Professor Aranda said.
“We do need the message to continue to be enforced or we may not see a correlation of those great gains into the future.”
Importantly, both the researchers and the Cancer Council stressed the fact that it was never too late to start sun-safe practises.
There is some indication that Australia and New Zealand could someday be overtaken in melanoma rates by other countries, with the UK, Sweden, Norway, and Canada seeing their rates grow by between 1.7 per cent and 4.8 per cent per year.
Dr Aranda said all countries needed to normalise sun smart behaviours to reduce the rates of the deadly cancer.
“We’ve got a bit to do with people like fashion designers where we celebrate fashion and imagery which celebrates hats and glasses,” she said.
“A critical part of the success on sun protection campaigns is in de-normalising poor behaviours.”
Australia and New Zealand have lead ther world in melanoma rates up until now because of their large caucasian populations coupled with year-round high UV ratings and outdoor lifestyles.
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.