The cost of melanoma diagnosis and treatment in Australia has ballooned to an estimated $201 million a year, despite the cancer being largely preventable.
A new study by researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has calculated the economic impact of melanoma on the nation’s healthcare system, with the cost increasing from approximately $30 million in 2001 to $201 million in 2017.
The findings have been published in the journal Applied Health Economics and Health Policy.
The study confirms Queensland has the highest rate of melanoma in the country, with treatment to cost the state’s health system an estimated $54.3 million this year.
QIMR Berghofer health economist Associate Professor Louisa Gordon said the rising cost of treatment highlighted the potential benefits and need for a national melanoma control and prevention strategy.
“In Australia and New Zealand, we spend more than anywhere else in the world on treating and diagnosing melanoma. It is a serious disease, it kills around 1800 Australians every year and causes heartache and stress for many more,” she said.
“It is important to note there can be a genetic component to melanoma but the dominant cause is exposure to UV radiation, which can be minimised simply by being sun smart: wearing a hat, sunscreen and protective clothing.
“Campaigns like ‘Slip, Slop, Slap!’ were a big part of the national psyche a generation ago.
“And although the national melanoma rate has begun to decline, it is still increasing in older Australians. This study indicates there is still a strong need for some fresh messaging to encourage Australians to be sun safe.”
Associate Professor Gordon said the high cost of new therapies to treat melanoma and the growing number of people with the disease – around 8885 in 2001 to approximately 13,000 in 2017 – helped to explain the increased financial burden on health systems.
“With the compounding effects of health price inflation, the increased uptake of expensive new medicines and a growing ageing demographic, it’s likely the cost of skin cancer will only rise further in the future,” she said.
“That’s why it’s vital for governments to invest greater amounts in skin cancer prevention campaigns. This will ensure a more sustainable and efficient healthcare system, not just today, but in the future.”
Associate Professor Gordon said the study also found there were cost savings to be made by improving the difficult task of diagnosing skin lesions.
“Melanomas are challenging to diagnose and the current practice is to treat or excise anything that looks suspicious,” Associate Professor Gordon said.
“However, our study found that improving the diagnostic accuracy of skin lesions and avoiding unnecessary treatment could potentially reduce health system costs in Australia by around $49 million a year.”