This photo, taken at North Wall, Ballina, was inspired by the iconic image of Australian photographer Max Dupain, ‘Sunbaker’.
This photo, taken at North Wall, Ballina, was inspired by the iconic image of Australian photographer Max Dupain, ‘Sunbaker’.

BURNT: We're the cancer capital

THE Northern Rivers is the skin cancer capital of the world, new figures from the Cancer Institute NSW reveal.

And Ballina is the epicentre of our skin cancer crisis, with melanoma rates in the coastal town nearly two thirds higher than the state average and nearly 40 per cent above the Far North Coast average.

However, despite the region’s problem with melanoma, there are only two skin cancer experts covering the region.

Cancer Institute NSW spokesman Adrian Grundy summed it up.

“If Australia is the melanoma capital of the world, NSW is the melanoma capital of the country and far the north coast is the melanoma capital of the state, then we could say that the far north coast is the melanoma capital of the world,” he said.

A new study of the NSW Central Cancer registry’s data from 2002 and 2007 found Ballina had the highest rate of skin cancer on the north coast region with 119.4 incidents every year per 100,000 people.

That compared to a NSW average of 48.4 per 100,000 and a Far North Coast average of 73.7 incidents per 100,000.

Tweed Heads came in second-worst for Melanoma on the Northern Rivers, followed by Maclean and Kyogle. Surprisingly, Byron Bay’s skin cancer rates were well below the region’s worst ‘hot-spots’.
“Byron has a transient population which may have spent their whole life in the sun, whereas inland farming areas have a high incident of melanoma caused by incidental sun damage,” Mr Grundy said.

Lismore Skin Clinic practice manager Nina Carrington said there were only two skin specialist
doctors working between Grafton and Tweed Heads.

“We have had to introduce bulk billing as part of our duty of care because there was such a need for it. We have old men having to make the trip from Tenterfield to see us,” Ms Carrington said.

Ms Carrington said that while time-strapped GPs could check troublesome moles, skin specialists were best qualified to detect melanoma.

“We are seeing more men coming in with skin cancers than ever,” she said. “There are lots of old farmers coming in losing bits of ear to melanoma. Unfortunately when it starts, it keeps on appearing.”

Mr Grundy said ‘incidental sun damage’, caused by working outdoors, was particularly common in older men.

However, the next generation was already on track to radically cut skin cancer rates on the Northern Rivers.

Carpenter Steve Callister, who was spending this week building timber house frames at Goonellabah’s Regatta Estate, said tradies had become more sun savvy during the 15 years he had spent in the industry.

“The old blokes are the only ones that are still getting around with their shirts off. The younger guys always wear a hat – they are sun smarter,” he said.


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