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Australia’s melanoma rates once again highest in the world

Australia has regained the unenviable title of having the world’s highest rates of invasive melanoma.

The study conducted by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and published today in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, has found that invasive melanoma rates in Australians have plateaued, while rates in New Zealand have started to fall.

It is an update of the findings of a 2016 study by QIMR Berghofer, which showed New Zealand had the highest rates in the world.

Invasive melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, which is capable of spreading to other parts of the body.

The most recently available data show that in 2014/2015 about 50 in every 100,000 Australians were diagnosed with invasive melanoma, compared to about 47 out of every 100,000 New Zealanders.

QIMR Berghofer Senior Scientist and Deputy Director Professor David Whiteman said the Australian figures were surprising because the 2016 analyses had suggested that melanoma incidence would decline in both countries.

“The main difference between the populations of Australia and New Zealand is in the 60-plus age groups,” Professor Whiteman said.

The incidence rates continue to rise in all of the other population groups, including US Caucasians, the UK, Sweden, Norway, and Canada at rates of between 1.7 per cent and 4.8 per cent per annum.

Professor Whiteman said the fact that rates were no longer rising in New Zealand, Australia and Denmark could be attributed to those countries taking more steps to implement community-wide skin cancer prevention programs.

“In Denmark, population studies show a big drop in the number of Danes using sunbeds since a 10-year national sun safety campaign began in 2007.”

“Unfortunately in North America, Sweden and Norway, melanoma rates are rising with no signs of abating,” Professor Whiteman said.

“Australia has a long history of coordinated and broad-reaching primary prevention campaigns, beginning in the early 1980s, whereas in the US, UK, Norway and Sweden such programs were implemented at least a decade later.

“In Canada, there is no nationally coordinated approach to skin cancer prevention, and efforts at the provincial level have been limited.”

Professor Whiteman said it was too early to tell if current trends in melanoma incidence in Australia, New Zealand and Denmark would continue over time.

“We need to keep monitoring these trends to understand the impact of control efforts in place in each jurisdiction,” he said.