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Skin cancer doesn’t happen in Canada, does it?

When you live in Australia, as we did just recently, you very quickly realize how seriously they take their sun protection. The combination of a light-skinned population with prolonged sun exposure leaves Australians at real risk.

The risk is so high, in fact, that according to its Cancer Council two in every three Australians will develop skin cancer before the age of 70. More than 440,000 Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer every year – 374,000 with non-melanoma skin cancer and 10,600 with melanoma.  In total, more than 1,600 Australians die from skin cancer each year.

Not surprisingly then, the government of Australia has embarked on a social awareness campaign about the dangers of sun exposure and how to prevent skin cancer. But I think many Canadians would find the actual campaigns surprisingly graphic. I know that we sure did at least.

Here is a sample television ad. (Warning: Not appropriate for children. Graphic scenes.)

That particular ad is from the real life of a 22-year-old Australian, while this one is of a 26-year-old.

If you knew a young person dying from skin cancer, it would be hard not to take sun protection seriously. And, sadly, we do. We have a family friend in Australia who has been given a terminal diagnosis from skin cancer. So, yes, we were deadly serious about sun exposure while in the land down under.

But now that we’re back in Canada, do we really need to worry about skin cancer? Compared to Australia, we hardly have a summer season at all!

Well, I checked the stats.

And apparently, skin cancer is alive and well in Canada. Believe it or not, skin cancer is actually is the most common cancer in Canada! I noted earlier that more than 1,600 Australians die annually from skin cancer. In Canada, this number is more than 900. Even in Ontario, where we live and which has a long winter season, melanoma is the second most common cancer in young adults (ages 15 to 34).

Now that I know these stats, I am not about to hide under a rock and live in fear. And our family will certainly be taking in as much of the summer that dear Ontario will grant us, that is for sure!

But we will continue to follow the prevention guidelines that were a part of our daily life in Australia:

  • Slip on clothing
  • Slop on some sunscreen
  • Slap on a hat
  • Seek out some shade
  • Slide on some sunglasses

Is this a topic of interest to you? If yes, here are some more sources of information:

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month – pass it on!


  1. Those are some frightening videos! People don’t take sun protection seriously enough and if they are very pale, think they need a tan to look “good”. Which is ridiculous!

    Wear protection and be proud of the skin colour you have naturally! The cost is not worth it!

  2. Good post Julie. My childhood friend was diagnosed with melanoma last year. As children and teenagers, we were always out in the sun. Since she has dark olive skin and dark hair and doesn’t burn easily, she didn’t ‘need’ to wear sunscreen. I, on the other hand, burn easily so my mom was always watching me and telling me to put a t-shirt on, etc…

    She had two major operations, has large visible scars, and luckily now is cancer free.

    While I have not been putting sunscreen on my kids for an early May walk to school, and I don’t make the boys wear huge one piece bathing suits, I do make sure they are covered and that their skin is getting only a very light tan throughout the summer.

    For myself, it’s an easy decision; the leathery skin and premature wrinkles I see on so many necks around town is enough to make me choose the SPF 60.

  3. Really great post, Julie. Thank you. :)

  4. Pauline – I know … those videos are hard core! You should see the campaigns for drunk driving – yikes!

    Liisa – I’m all about putting on a physical barrier (hats, clothing) because I really don’t like the actually putting on of sunscreen. That’s the main reason I love the one-piece UV suits — it lessens the whole application process (and I also don’t have to worry that I’ve missed a spot on the shoulders or back!). And I hear you on the wrinkle front — everytime I am tempted to tan my face, I just think of wrinkles!

    Haley-O: Glad the post resonated with you! My hope is more of a conversation around the topic rather than being a fear-monger.

  5. As a pale-skinned, former sun worshipper, I wish I had paid more attention to thoughtful advice like this when I was a bit younger. Now I must resign myself to regular visits to the dermatologist and nervous waiting for the results of skin biopsies. But I know how lucky I am to have escaped with only the warning signs of skin cancer.

    I really appreciate your reasoned tone here, and the way you’ve included the stories of the young Australians profiled in the videos. Thanks, Julie.

  6. Kristen – I hear you on that! So far I’ve had 4 moles removed. My back looks like I’ve been shot and had to have the bullets removed! But I couldn’t care less … I am only happy they are benign.

  7. i’ve been practicing the slip, slop, slap for years. in guiding we promote it feverishly. i hope your friend has a strong recovery.

  8. I know skin cancer exists as it’s all over my family but I didn’t know you could die from it! I think of it as a regimen of taking off spots. wow.

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