Australia’s SunSmart Program Program Linked to Decrease in Melanomas Interview with:

Suzanne Dobbinson, PhD Senior Research Fellow Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Behavioural Science Division Australia

Dr. Dobbinson

Suzanne Dobbinson, PhD
Senior Research Fellow
Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer
Behavioural Science Division
Australia What is the background for this study?

Response: Skin cancer prevention programs, such as the SunSmart program in Victoria, have been implemented in Australia over 30 years with the aim of reducing the population’s exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), the main cause of skin cancer. A recent reduction in melanoma rates among younger Australians has led to this paper which examines the extent of behaviour change in Melbourne, Australia, and the potential contribution of prevention programs to the decline in melanoma rates.

Previous population-based studies assessing the impact of these programs have focused on measuring the change in the prevalence of individual sun protection behaviours, and thus have largely overlooked the use of sun avoidance and composite sun protection behaviours. The focus on tracking individual behaviours may have underestimated the behaviour change associated with these programs.

We analysed data from a series of cross-sectional surveys conducted in Melbourne during summer months between 1987 and 2017. These data include the summer before the SunSmart program commenced (1987-88) and across summers in three subsequent decades. What are the main findings?

Response: The study revealed a considerably higher increase in sun protection behaviour than previously reported, with a rapid increase evident soon after the SunSmart program commenced. Convincingly, a reduction in sunburn prevalence corresponded with the increased use of sun protection. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The findings are consistent with the possibility that changes over the decades in sun protection behaviour have contributed to the decline in melanoma rates and have substantial implications for the future delivery of skin cancer prevention programs. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: The findings demonstrate the benefits of long-term population-based monitoring of behaviour change for skin cancer prevention. Additionally, the study highlights the value of utilising composite measures to assess the multi-dimensional nature of skin cancer preventive behaviours. Future studies will need to continue to use high-quality methods for monitoring behaviour change of the population over time and to use comprehensive measures to analyse program outcomes given the multiple effective strategies used for prevention. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Although definitive evidence of the impact of the SunSmart program on skin cancer rates remains elusive, prevention programs should be supported given that lifelong protection is beneficial in reducing the risk of skin cancer.


Implementation of the SunSmart program and population sun protection behaviour in Melbourne, Australia: Results from cross-sectional summer surveys from 1987 to 2017
Tamara Tabbakh,, Angela Volkov, Melanie Wakefield, Suzanne Dobbinson

PLOS Medicine Published: October 8, 2019



Last Modified: [last-modified]


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Last Updated on October 10, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD