Childhood sun exposure causing majority of skin cancer cases

Childhood sun exposure has been found to cause the majority of non-melanoma skin cancers in adults, prompting calls by Cancer Council Queensland for improved sun safety across the state.

A new report from the 45 and Up Study[1], led by the University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW, found that basal cell carcinomas (BCC) diagnosed later in life were most often the result of sun exposure during childhood and adolescence, while cumulative sun exposure was found to cause squamous cell carcinomas (SCC).

An estimated 70 per cent of all skin cancers diagnosed in Australia are basal cell carcinomas, with men more likely to be diagnosed than women[2],.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Ms Chris McMillan said the study reinforced the urgent need to minimise the amount of UV radiation that children are exposed to and to reinforce SunSmart behaviours through the life course.

“In Queensland in particular, skin cancer continues to be a burning issue,” Ms McMillan said.

“An estimated 64 per cent of children report being sunburnt each year[3], putting themselves at serious risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

“Adequate sun protection is critical from an early age – with all five sun protective measures key to preventing this disease.

“We recommend Queenslanders slip on protective clothing, slop on sunscreen, slap on a broad-brimmed hat, seek shade, and slide on wrap-around sunnies when outdoors.

“Most skin cancers can be prevented, but we need much greater individual and community action to ensure Queenslanders of all ages are protected from unsafe exposure to the sun.”

In Queensland alone, around 215,000 males and 128,000 females are treated for non-melanoma skin cancers each year[4].

Ms McMillan called on parents and community leaders to role model sun safe habits to ensure children are better protected from the sun.

“It’s time we get serious about sun safety and use adequate sun protection when outdoors – sunscreen alone isn’t enough,” Ms McMillan said.

“It’s critical that Queenslanders wear hats and have access to adequately shaded spaces when outdoors. Equally importantly, as guardians of our next generation we need to make sure our kids wear sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing when they’re out at play, and we need to role model this behaviour to help normalize a SunSmart lifestyle.

“Sun protection is required when the UV Index is three or above – in Queensland that’s all year round, including winter.”

Ms McMillan said early detection of skin cancer also remained a core focus of Cancer Council’s work.

“Queenslanders need to get to know their own skin and see a GP straight away if anything changes in shape, colour, or size, or if anything new appears,” she said.

“It’s imperative that people are aware of their individual risks too – particularly for those with fair skin types, which burns more easily, and anyone with a family history of skin cancer.

“Being SunSmart also means regular skin checks, and helping family members and friends to spot check in hard to see places, such as on the scalp or parts of the back.”

One third of all cancers can be prevented by staying SunSmart, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland and staying SunSmart is available at or 13 11 20.


For more information or interviews, please contact:
Laura McKoy,
Media Manager,
Cancer Council Queensland
Phone: (07) 3634 5345
Mobile: 0409 001 171