Tasmania’s skin cancer rates, while still high, appear to be plateauing as seen in exclusive data reported by the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research.
The study, led by PhD student Bruna Silva Ragaini, examined non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) in Tasmania since 1978. These NMSCs, which include basal and squamous cell carcinomas, are the most common types of cancer in Australia and outnumber the total of all other cancers.
The data is particularly significant as Tasmania is the only Australian jurisdiction that collects information on NMSCs, and this is the first paper to be published with the Tasmanian data since the 1990s.
The paper shows around 10,000 Tasmanians are diagnosed with a NMSC every year, with men more likely to develop these cancers than women, and the average age at first diagnosis is 71. The paper also shows that incidence rates increased steeply in Tasmania through the 1980s and 1990s, but began to level off and decline since 2014, which may highlight the impact of sun smart messaging and changed behaviour in the community
While the trend may be declining, the economic impacts are staggering. A recent estimation in 2020 showed that the direct costs of NMSCs to Australia was $1.2 billion. Skin cancer is costly in more ways than one, and prevention is always better than cure.
Director of the Menzies Institute, Distinguished Professor Alison Venn, says she is pleased to be able to provide this important information to the public.
“We’ve known these NMSCs are very common, but up until now we weren’t able to say whether trends were improving in Tasmania. While there are encouraging signs, we still see one in three Tasmanians diagnosed with this type of skin cancer by age 75.”
As we start to thaw out after winter and enter the summer period the key message is to be sun smart. Wearing a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses, using sunscreen and seeking shade are all ways we can protect our skin.
Tasmanian Chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and skin cancer general practitioner, Dr Tim Jackson, said that while NMSCs are rarely fatal, it’s important that they are detected early to avoid invasive treatments and scarring. Patients are encouraged to be aware of any skin changes and discuss their skin cancer risk with their GP.
“We encourage high risk individuals over 40 years of age to come and talk to us and be examined for these skin cancers. Quite often early detection and management can lead to far better cosmetic outcomes with less scarring and discomfort.”
For further information about sun safety go to: https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/sun-safety