New Zealand had the highest rate of melanoma deaths in 2020, and one of the highest incidences of melanoma globally, according to a newly released international study.
The study, carried out by a group of scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, the University of Sydney and Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute Centre and published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, has found the cumulative risk of melanoma was highest in Australia and New Zealand, with one in 20 males and one in 30 females being affected by age 75. Risk of death by melanoma before 75 was one in 280 for males and one in 555 for females. These figures reflect the finding that, globally, melanoma is more common in males, with females more likely to survive a diagnosis.
The burden of disease is also concentrated in high-income countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and Canada, due to the higher risk profile of fair-skinned people of European descent.
The study used data from GLOBOCAN2020, which collects data on cancer worldwide for use in research. By comparing the figures with GLOBOCAN2012, global cases of melanoma were found to have increased by 41.3%, with mortality rising 3.6%. The increase could be partially attributed to “more screening skin examinations [and] falling clinical thresholds”. Based on this data, the survey authors estimate an approximate 50% increase in melanoma incidence and 68% increase in melanoma deaths worldwide by 2040, attributable to population growth and ageing.
In comments via the Science Media Centre, Amanda Oakley, a dermatologist with the Waikato District Health Board, said in response to the study, “not only are our incident and mortality rates high… we have a burgeoning ageing population of white New Zealanders (baby boomers) that baked in the sun during their youth or have worked outdoors with little protection from sunburn or daily relentless ultraviolet radiation”.
She added: “Our health services are under a great strain with far too few dermatologists, surgical specialists, and GPs to effectively manage our skin cancer epidemic.”
Fellow dermatologist Dr Louise Reiche noted the upcoming reformation of our health system was “a wonderful opportunity to… reduce the current and pending melanoma health burden”.
Dr Geri McLeod of the University of Otago agreed, saying “the results of this study send a clear message to the New Zealand government and local territorial authorities that more investment is needed to reduce risk factors for the development of melanoma”. She added that increased educational campaigns were needed, as sunscreen is often used incorrectly as the only source of sun protection rather than in conjunction with hats and shade.
Dr Bronwen McNoe from the University of Otago’s social and behavioural research unit said New Zealand “lags behind Australia in virtually every dimension of skin cancer prevention including government investment”.