Nearly 42,000 people were quizzed about their melanoma risk by researchers at Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.
“We found almost 24 per cent of respondents underestimated their risk of melanoma by at least two levels,” Deputy Director David Whiteman said.
Prof Whiteman said only about 10 per cent of the people surveyed overestimated their level of risk.
“Worryingly the people most likely to underestimate their risk level were people who have important risk factors,” he said.
These included men of European ancestry aged over 65 with fair, sun-sensitive skin and lots of moles.
“We were surprised to find that this group was also more likely to be university educated and have a history of skin cancer removals and treatments,” Prof Whiteman said.
Researchers suggested the group could benefit from better counselling about their future risk of developing melanoma when diagnosed.
More than 28,500 people correctly identified their skin cancer risk category or were only one category away from the correct level.
Fellow researcher Associate Professor Olsen said no matter how low people think their skin cancer risk is, they should always be sun smart.
“Cover-up, use sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses and find shade,” she said.
The study will be published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology on Tuesday.