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Cancer risks ignored by young sun-seekers

Tuesday, 8th January, 2008

Melanoma rates are rising dramatically but young people appear more complacent than ever about the risks. Now researchers are trying to discover why. The "slip, slop, slap" campaign of the 1980s and 1990s may have worked on the previous generation but surveys of young people today repeatedly show that many are flouting sun warnings and striving for a tan. NSW figures show melanoma rates rose 24 per cent in women and 16 per cent in men between 1995 and 2005. This week the federal government launched a $11.5 million skin cancer prevention campaign aimed directly at young Australians. The ads contain hard-hitting pictures of a real melanoma patient in surgery in the hope that they will have an impact on sun seekers.

Local teenager Bronwyn Hogan said she thought the graphic new ads had a much higher chance of getting the message across."I think it'll work... they're confronting ads," she said. Bronwyn said she would be ensuring she didn't get burnt this summer but knew there were some people that would still try to tan, despite the warnings."I don't think it's worth it... it's an individual's choice but I'd advise them not to do it," she said. 

A major international project will soon seek the opinions of those keeping it safe like Bronwyn and those still tanning as they investigate all aspects of melanoma risk Geneticists, epidemiologists and psychologists at 22 places including Australia, the US and western and eastern Europe will work together on the project.

The end product will be a personalised online assessment of the risk of developing a potentially deadly skin melanoma. The 'calculator' will look at the combined impact of genetics, skin type, moles, hair, eye colour, sun exposure patterns, history of sunburn and people's sun protection behaviour, said Dr Nadine Kasparian, a University of NSW cancer researcher involved in the project. "This information will allow people to better understand their melanoma risk, which is especially relevant in Australia because we have the highest incidence of the disease in the world," Dr Kasparian said. "We hope that ultimately it will also change people's behaviour." The project's melanoma risk calculator is due to be online within five years but a similar one is available now. It can be found on the website by the NSW Cancer Institute associated with the new graphic commercials - www.darksideoftanning.com.au. The website also offers information about skin cancer and the risks of excessive sun exposure. Bronwyn said she had already been on the website and found out her risk. "I'm more at risk because there is a history of skin cancer in my family and I have fair skin," she said. She said she'd recommend the website to others.

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