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The Dangers of Skin Cancer

It may be the first weekend of fall, but in Australia, they're welcoming spring. That means millions of people will be spending more time outdoors under the sun.

As CBS' Barry Petersen reports from Sydney, Australian officials are trying to spread the word to cover up--to keep skin cancer from spreading.

Fun in the sun is what brings Australians to the beach--and tourists to Australia. So, what's wrong with this picture?

Try this--Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. It kills 1,000 Australians a year. Virtually every Australian man will get some form of skin cancer, and it doesn't have to happen.

"It is almost 100 percent caused by environment," says Chris Carver, the swimming coach for the US Olympic synchronized swim team, now training in Australia. She survived skin cancer.

Her swimmers don't even get near the pool until they've slathered up. And competitors like Tuesday Middaugh are walking, talking advertisements for avoiding skin cancer.

"You have to protect every part of your skin that's exposed," Middaugh says. "Even in overcast weather."

It's not just Australia's problem. Skin cancer is on the rise in the US, with a million cases a year. To US Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, it's a cancer that frankly, shouldn't be a problem because it is so simple to prevent.

"The most important thing is that people actually have choices. You can put on clothing, you obviously can put on a hat, they can use sunscreen, they can wear their sunglasses, but people need to pay attention to this disease," Shalala says.

Australia's approach cannot be more blunt: the sun is not your friend.

"Every time you get sunburn, even mildly sunburnt, you're putting a timebomb under your skin," says one Australian television commercial.

Not so long ago, parents would tell their children to "go outside and play and get some sun." Now, say researchers, that's exactly the wrong advice--and at precisely the wrong time of life.

That's the age when most melanomas and probably other forms of skin cancer originate, and they may even result from just one or two bad sunburn episodes during childhood, says one expert.

And as Chris Carver knows from experience, if you got too much sun yesterday, you better be careful today. "If you have any question at all, you see a dermatologist," she says.

Not everyone can be an Olympic swimmer. But it doesn't take thousands of hours of training, winning aspirations and great fitness to avoid skin cancer. Prevention is simple--cover up yourself and your kids--and you could like skin cancer free for the rest of your lives.

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