Kim Milner is diligent about her sons' sun safety following her own melanoma scare last year
Kim Milner is diligent about her sons' sun safety following her own melanoma scare last year

CQ teens at risk of deadly disease

SHOCKING statistics show higher than average numbers of adults and children are seeking treatment for sunburn at our regional hospitals.

In another damning statistic for the region, a quarter of children got sunburnt two or more times in the past year.

These alarming stats from the latest report on Queenslanders' Health show the sun safety message is not being heard by everyone working and playing in the sunshine.

The higher-than-average prevalence for sunburn cases was reported at Townsville, Mackay, the South West and Central Queensland health services.

Children aged 12-17 were about 36 per cent more likely to be burnt than those aged 5-11, which suggests that parents are more diligent in making sure their dependents "slip, slop and slap" than teenagers who are more likely left to their own devices when it comes to adopting sun safety measures.

The face or head was the part of the body most often reported as sunburnt (55 per cent of the time) and the most common reasons parents gave hospital staff was that they didn't reapply sunscreen. Nearly 70 per cent of incidents involved a water-based activity.

Of those children, 14 per cent were burnt twice and 11 per cent three or more times in just one year. Just under one-tenth (0.9 per cent) received a sunburn described as "blistering".

As we head into another summer season it's a timely reminder that as few as five episodes of sunburn per decade increases the risk of melanoma three-fold.

The importance of sun safety is not lost on Kim Milner, a Rockhampton mum, who had a melanoma removed this time last year and required 33 stitches.

 

A few suspect moles turned into surgery and 33 stitches for Rockhampton mum Kim Milner
A few suspect moles turned into surgery and 33 stitches for Rockhampton mum Kim Milner

 

Her family had no history of skin cancer and, growing up around Rockhampton, out on the family boat and exploring Five Rocks, she can only remember getting burnt "probably two times total", when she forgot to reapply sunscreen.

Ms Milner, a teacher's aide, said she was being diligent in getting a few "funky looking" moles looked at by a skin specialist and didn't expect to be called back to undergo first a biopsy and then surgery.

And with no access to a dermatologist in Rockhampton, the expense of travel to and accommodation in Brisbane was considerable.

The consequences for the public purse are enormous too. The Queensland death rate associated with skin cancers dropped from 7.4 to 5.3 per cent but, at number 16 on the list, it still ranks above "land transport" fatalities and only a fraction below liver cancer.

The instances of hospitalisation, however, rose over 40 per cent during the past decade, with melanoma costing taxpayers $163 million and the more common non-melanoma skin cancer (also associated with sun exposure) a whopping billion dollars.

Although her own prognosis is good, Ms Milner said she had become "phobic" about sun exposure and questioned how Queensland parents could protect their children.

"My kids can't go outside without long-sleeve shirts and I schedule sunscreen 20 minutes beforehand," she said.

"But wide-brimmed hats are really hard to find and the good ones can cost $100 or more.

"And I worry whether all the schools in this region are implementing sun-safe behavior as much as they should, whether there's enough awareness."

It is little surprise the report concludes the risk of sunburn decreases with attention to sun-safe practices, and incrementally so when Queenslanders follow more than one of four behaviours: wearing sun-safe clothing, wearing a hat, using sunscreen and seeking shade.

It also suggests school uniforms requirements should be "strengthened" and more parents should use an app or website to strategise when they prioritise sunscreen.



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