The Sun is a Friend or Foe of Our Body: Skin Cancer

The biological status of a person can greatly impact the person's risk of developing skin cancer.

Skin Type & Genetics

Genetics play a role in skin cancer risk with 5-10% suspected to have been inherited. The greatest genetic influence, though, is skin type. People with fairer skin are at higher risk of developing skin cancer. Due to increased risk, people with fairer skin are also more likely to use sunscreen and undergo regular skin screenings.

Epigenetics, changes in a person's genes due to external factors such as UV exposure, are one of the greatest risk factors for skin cancer, however, we will touch on that later.

Age & Gender

Melanoma is currently the leading cause of childhood cancer in Australia at 7%, with the highest among females aged 15-19 years. Young adults aged 18-24 years are least likely to partake in sun protection behaviors and report the highest rates of sunburn in Australia.

Adults aged 25 years or over are most likely to have regular skin checks and be sun smart while outside. Males are more inclined to wear hats and protective clothing, while females are more likely to wear sunscreen and stay in the shade. Females have almost twice the chance of developing melanoma later in life than males.

Diet & Medications

Diet can play a huge role in the effectiveness of the skin's natural ability to protect itself from harmful UV rays, with particular attention to Vitamin C and D. Vitamin C protects the cells that make up the outer layer of the skin by destroying UV rays as they contact the skin. There is found to be an association between Vitamin D and skin cancer rates and aggressiveness, with studies showing that Vitamin D is essential in the role of sun damage protection and helps to control the growth of skin cancers once developed. Vitamin D is available from sources of food such as meat, eggs, mushrooms, and fortified dairy products, though the most abundant form of Vitamin D comes from the sun itself. Yes, the sun can provide the key nutrient that helps protect against too much of that very exposure! You must however be careful if or when using some medications, as they may sensitize the skin to sunlight, making it easier to get sunburn.

The Built Environment

The built environment can have a major impact on sun safety. How many times have you been at an event or location with no shade facilities and realized how important it is? I know I have. Built shaded areas are mainly found in parks, schools, and playgrounds and encourage outdoor activities, especially in high temperatures. It is an important structure as it lowers the UV exposure while still allowing essential Vitamin D synthesis, the extent to which depends largely on the material, size, and shape of the shade. Shade also reduces the responsibility of the individuals enjoying the space to apply sun protection.

The Social Environment

The social environment is everywhere! Beaches/pools, parks, weekend sports, music festivals, the list goes on. Living in such a high-risk state, we need to stick together and help each other out. At sporting events, free sunscreen is found in sports medic tents, but failing that if a neighbor asks for a bit of sunscreen, I’m sure they’d be happy to help and verse visa. Even with such community cohesiveness, adults aged 55 years and over were found to have cancer-causing mutations in over a quarter of their healthy skin cells! Highlighting just how important sun safety education is, particularly here in Queensland. It is recommended that all schools have a sun smart program put in place to educate students about the dangers of too much UV exposure and create a fair environment and equal access to health opportunities.

Salutogenesis & Conclusion

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, caused by too much exposure to UV rays, though healthy skin requires essential Vitamin D that is absorbed through healthy amounts of sunlight. Populations that are exposed to moderate sunlight, wear sun protection such as sunscreen, long clothing, and sunglasses, and get regular skin screening are at a significantly decreased risk of developing skin cancer. In fact, those are the populations likely to have some of the healthiest skins.


  1. Tavakolpour S, Daneshpazhooh M, Mahmoudi, H. Skin Cancer: Genetics, Immunology, Treatments and Psychological Care. 2017. Cancer Genetics and Psychotheraphy. (851-934).
  2. Scherer D, Kumar R. Genetics of Pigmentation in Skin Cancer – A Review. 2010. Mutation Research. Vol 705(141-153).
  3. Maguire-Eisen, M. Skin Cancer: A Growing Health Problem for Children. 2013. Seminars in Oncology Nursing. Vol 29(3) pp 206-2013.
  4. Jongenelis M, et al. The Relationship Between Skin Checking and Sun Protection Behaviours: Implications for Skin Cancer Prevention Campaigns. 2018. Public Health. Vol 155(55-58).
  5. Queensland Health. Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy. 2017-2020. Queensland Government. Available at:
  6. Harvard Health Publications. When Medications Make You Sensitive To Sunlight. 2015. Harvard Medical School.
  7. Holman D, et al. Shade as an Environmental Design Tool for Skin Cancer Prevention. 2018. Am J Public Health. Vol 108(12).
  8. SunSMART. Schools and Early Childhood. 2019. Available at:
  9. Cancer Council. SunSmart Schools and Early Childhood Programs. 2019. Available at:
07 July 2022
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