Skin cancer rate hits all time high and Cancer Society says urgent action needed - including sunbed ban

Ninety-thousand people will be diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in New Zealand this year, a new record high according to research published today, prompting the Cancer Society to call for urgent action by the Government.

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The number of people affected is up from 67,000 cases in 2006.

The research was funded by the Cancer Society of New Zealand and the New Zealand Health Promotion Agency. 

This report estimates the numbers of diagnoses and the incidence rate of non-melanoma skin cancer in New Zealand based on data extracted from a regional collection of pathology records of skin biopsies taken in 2009 to 2013.

"These figures show that a staggering number of New Zealanders are affected by skin cancer and urgent action is needed to increase sun protection and reduce UV damage," said Dr Chris Jackson, Medical Director for the Cancer Society.

While the projected figures for 2018 include both invasive and non-invasive skin cancers, whereas the 2006 figures include only invasive skin cancers, this is still a major rise in the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer, the Cancer Society says.

"We already know we have the highest rate of melanoma in the world, but basal and squamous cell cancers aren't usually counted by the cancer registry," Dr Jackson said. 

This new research is the first attempt to estimate contemporary skin cancer rates in New Zealand with previous data only available from 2006, he said.  

The society says the burden of non-melanoma skin cancer is well beyond what it expected and they are calling for urgent action. 

"We need a strong response from Government that includes banning sunbeds, improving sun protection for outdoor workers, making shade areas mandatory and rolling out funding for SunSmart into all schools, and launching a skin cancer reduction strategy," Dr Jackson said.

The data from the research will be useful for informing projections for health care system costs and the planning of future health care needs in New Zealand, he said.

Meanwhile the Cancer Society is encouraging all New Zealanders who are concerned about dark, pigmented skin spots, or ones that are crusted or bleeding, to see a doctor. 

The Cancer Society strongly recommends that all Kiwis continue to slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses.

The research titled 'Expected keratinocytic cancer incidence in New Zealand' was funded by the New Zealand Health Promotion Agency and the Cancer Society of New Zealand and authored by Epidemiologist, Mary Jane Sneyd and Biostatistican, Andrew Gray.