New Zealand overtakes Australia's melanoma rate
NEW Zealand now has the highest rate of invasive melanoma in the world, overtaking Australia, which skin cancer experts say should act as a "wake-up call" for the government to spend more money on prevention initiatives.
A study by Queensland researchers has found that Kiwi melanoma rates have almost doubled over the last three decades - from about 26 cases per 100,000 people in 1982 to about 50 cases per 100,000 people in 2011.
Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane found that while Australia's melanoma rates have been declining since 2005, New Zealand's rates are still increasing and are not expected to start falling until about 2017.
The study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia and published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, compared the rates of invasive melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer - in populations across Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, and the Caucasian population of the United States, from 1982 to 2011.
While study head Professor David Whiteman said that Kiwis have become more sun smart, more prevention work could be done, and for many older New Zealanders the damage has already been done.
"As New Zealand's population ages, the number of melanomas diagnosed will continue to increase," he said.
"Those people are developing melanomas now, many decades after the cancer-causing exposure to sunlight occurred.
"While it's good news that average melanoma rates in New Zealand should start to fall soon, the fact that the actual number of cases will keep rising is bad news."
Associate Professor Tony Reeder of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago, says that for more than a decade New Zealand has lacked high-level commitment to, and adequate investment in, skin cancer prevention.
"Despite growing evidence that skin cancer prevention initiatives can help avoid melanoma and save lives, governments have not been willing to adequately fund them," he said.
"Our politicians dropped the ball and unless there is increased funding and a high-level commitment, more New Zealanders than Australians will continue to develop potentially preventable skin cancers."
He criticised the Government for failing to ban commercial cosmetic sunbed services in New Zealand, in contrast with Australia which has "acted decisively to protect its population" by implementing a comprehensive sunbed ban.
Dr Ben Tallon, speaking on behalf of Melanoma New Zealand and MelNet, a network of professionals working together to reduce the incidence and impact of melanoma in New Zealand, says the Government needs to "get serious" about preventing skin cancer, with a serious commitment to funding prevention strategies.
"The study found that, while Australia's melanoma rates have been declining since 2005, our rates are still increasing and are not expected to start falling until about 2017. The Government is now facing big health bills as increasing numbers of people develop invasive melanoma," he said.
"This study should be a wake-up call. Skin cancer prevention initiatives are highly cost effective and an important public health investment.
"It's an investment the New Zealand Government must make."
• Melanoma rates in New Zealand increased from about 26 cases per 100,000 people in 1982 to about 50 cases per 100,000 people in 2011.
• Australia's melanoma rates peaked at about 49 cases per 100,000 people in 2005 and declined to about 48 cases per 100,000 people in 2011.
• Researchers predict that New Zealand's melanoma rates will start to decline from next year and reach about 46 cases per 100,000 people by 2031.
• Australia's rates are expected to keep falling to about 41 cases per 100,000 people by 2031.
• Rates in the UK, Sweden, Norway and the Caucasian population of the United States are predicted to keep increasing until at least 2022.