A person with skin cancer in Australia is more likely to be a man aged over 55 years who also hails from Queensland, new research shows.
Scientists from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have for the first time comprehensively documented the burden of skin cancer across Australia, highlighting regional and age-related characteristics of patients who had a cancerous skin lesion removed.
QIMR Berghofer Cancer Control Group leader Professor David Whiteman said a key finding of the paper, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, was the frequency with which people had more than one skin cancer excised.
He found that almost seven per cent of all Australians aged over 20 had a non-melanoma skin cancer removed between 2011 and 2014 and of those, almost half had more than one skin cancer cut out.
“A key finding was the significance of multiple lesions for patients. That is, the frequency with which people have more than one skin cancer,” Professor Whiteman said.
“We found that 74 per cent of all skin cancers that were removed came from just 47 per cent of Australians who had skin cancer treatment. In other words, the vast majority of skin cancers arose in a relatively small pool of people.
“In raw numbers, this means more than 183,000 skin cancers that were removed over a four-year period came from just 47 per cent of the total population who had skin cancers excised.”
Professor Whiteman said the study found more men than women had multiple skin cancers removed, particularly men aged over 70 years.
“We also found that Queenslanders were significantly more likely to have multiple skin cancers than residents of other states,” he said.
“Having a big-picture view of the impact of multiplicity is useful not only for individual doctors, but also for those who plan health services and make policy.
“Multiple skin cancer lesions are a big driver of pain and suffering, as well as costs to the healthcare system.”
Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) cause more than 95,000 hospital admissions each year in Australia and account for more than 500 deaths.
BCCs and SCCs, which are non-melanoma skin cancers, together impose the second highest cost of all cancers on the Australian health budget, after colorectal cancer.
Professor Whiteman’s study of the prevalence of skin cancer in the Australian population was analysed using de-identified Medicare data overlaid with histology information from his work on the world’s largest prospective cohort study of skin cancer, QSkin.
“This study is the most comprehensive picture of the occurrence of these cancers by age, sex, state and prior history of skin cancer,” he said.
“Our results show that by the age of 70 years, around half of all Australian men treated for skin cancer will have another excision within four years.
“In Queensland, rates were nearly twice the national average and almost three-fold higher than Victoria and Tasmania.
“The reported rates are very high when compared on a global scale and underscore the sheer size of the skin cancer burden within the Australian population.”