Cancer Council research shows an alarming drop in the number of NSW adults using hats to protect themselves from the effects of the sun.
The data from Cancer Council’s National Sun Protection Survey points to just 42 per cent of NSW adults wearing a hat when exposed to UV on summer weekends. It is down from 47 per cent in 2003.
The drop in hat wearing results in sunburn to the face, head, ears and nose.
General practitioner with additional qualifications in skin cancer management at Greenmeadows Medical Centre Dr Robert Clarke said the drop in numbers could be associated with a decline in campaign advertising.
“There was a great publicity period in which there was a lot of advertisement of the slip, slop, slap campaign. Like all advertising, it works well while it is there but it does fade away,” he said.
“I think this has led to a reduction in hat wearing.
“For some people, wearing a hat can be inconvenient. But wearing a hat – particularly a broad brimmed hat – does offer protection to the head, which is the most vulnerable part of the body for getting skin cancers.”
Dr Clarke said people should have a health check to ascertain their risk to sun cancer. He said people in the low risk range, self-surveillance and getting someone to look at their back was a good plan, while for someone who has had several sun spots, annual checks are recommended.
“Someone with a more significant risk, including several skin cancers, I’d suggest a six-monthly check would be recommended,” he added.
While the sun can and does cause damage to the skin, Dr Clarke said 10 to 20 minutes per day for someone casually dressed helped produce Vitamin B.
“I tell adults that while they have had skin damage there is always a benefit in wearing a broad-brimmed hat,” he said.
Lower Mid North Coast Cancer Council NSW spokesperson Tim Chapman said with 237 people in the Lower Mid North Coast expected to be diagnosed with melanoma this year, and 24 deaths expected, the results show that too few adults in NSW are understanding the importance of a combination of sun protection measures.
“A five per cent drop in hat usage over the past ten years may sound small, but any downward trend is a concern. This latest decrease shows that more than 240,000 people in NSW have stopped wearing a hat to protect themselves when exposed to UV on weekends,” he said.
“Fewer than 1 in 5 adults in NSW used three or more sun protection measures during summer, which is a real worry given the prevalence of skin cancer in NSW and across Australia.
“Yet most skin cancers are preventable by the use of comprehensive sun protection. There can be a tendency for many Lower Mid North Coast adults to slop on some sunscreen and think they are protected all day long. But sunscreen isn’t a suit of armour. It should be your last line of defence – a hat, clothing, sunglasses and shade are also key to protecting your skin.”
The data also showed some worrying trends indicating that the lack of broad-brimmed hats was translating to the places on the body where people across Australia are sunburnt.
“The national research also shows that the face, head, nose, or ears are the most common places on the body that Australians get sunburnt, alongside the arms and hands,” he said.
“There’s no doubt that by neglecting a range of sun protection measures, including slapping on a broad-brimmed hat, all Aussies are putting themselves at risk of a potentially deadly skin cancer.”