You’d be hard pressed to find someone who had lived in Australia during the 80s who wasn’t familiar with the Slip, Slop, Slap! campaign.
The catchy tune performed by a dancing seagull in the TV ad was a major factor in raising awareness of the danger of skin cancer in Australia. The campaign was adapted slightly – for example the Kiwis had Slip, Slop, Slap Wrap! – and used all over the world with what now seem to be excellent results.
A recent study published in the European Journal of Cancer suggested that by 2050, deaths caused by cutaneous malignant melanoma in light-skinned populations could fall to almost none, thanks largely to the fact we’re all much more aware of the need to protect ourselves from the sun.
Why are skin cancer death rates dropping?
The researchers analysed long-term melanoma death rates in seven regions where the majority of the population has light skin. These included North America, Oceania (New Zealand and Australia) and several areas of Europe.
They found that while there was a peak in skin cancer deaths in these areas between 1900 and 1960, since then the number of fatal cases has decreased drastically, and they predicted things were set to get even better.
Interestingly, the team said it was not advancements in treatment and screening that have led to the reduction, but the fact that starting from the 60s, children have been better protected from UV exposure. But don’t be too quick to point the finger at older parents – while we all know now that UV exposure is most dangerous in childhood, this hasn’t always been the case.
In fact, at the start of the 20th century, many health professionals held a very different view so parents could perhaps have been forgiven for not having covered their children in enough sunscreen.
Good news for the young, but older generations not so lucky
The research paints a rosy picture for those in the young and middle-aged generations, but the future isn’t quite so bright for those born between 1940-1960, who still have a higher chance of developing melanoma.
The study’s findings correlate with a separate set of figures released by Cancer Research UK last week, which suggested that pensioners were seven times more likely to develop malignant melanoma now than they were 40 years ago.
Package holidays to blame
The charity said, however, that it wasn’t just childhood exposure that put pensioners at greater risk, but also package holidays.
It said many of today’s pensioners were the first to benefit from the introduction of cheap package holidays back in the 1960s, but that as these types of trips boomed, it became fashionable for tourists to return with a suntan, a trend that is now catching up with many of these package holiday pioneers.
We must all be vigilant about changes in skin
Interestingly, the charity’s figures were also a little less upbeat on the risk to younger adults, with it stating that malignant melanoma is the second most common cause of cancer in those aged 15-34. So it seems that while the Slip, Slop, Slap! Message has clearly entered our psyche one way or another, it wasn’t quite soon enough for some.
As well as slipping on a shirt, slopping on sunscreen and slapping on a hat, we must also watch carefully for any melanoma warning signs and have them checked out by a professional.