New melanoma figures a warning to older generations

Wednesday 9 March, 2011
  • Victorians aged 55 or over account for two-thirds of melanoma diagnoses.
  • Rural men at most risk - melanoma incidence rates one third higher than men in urban areas.
  • Melanoma rates falling in younger age groups.

Cancer Council Victoria today released new statistics revealing melanoma incidence rates continue to rise in Victoria.

However, SunSmart Manager, Sue Heward at Cancer Council Victoria said the trend data does show some positive age-based declines, with melanoma rates now falling in men and women under 40 years and the rate of increase slowing in older age groups.

"The highest rates remain in men over 60 - so this data prompts a timely reminder to all Victorians that sun protection is crucial at any age," she said.

"The figures also send a strong message to regional Victorians with 2,719 new cases of melanoma diagnosed between 2005-08 in rural areas, more than half of which were in males. The rates for regional men and women are more than one-third higher than in urban areas."

Ms Heward said: "People should not be fooled into thinking that it is too late or that all the damage has already been done - using sun protection and getting to know your skin matters regardless of age.

"Despite experiencing an unusual summer, Victoria recorded extreme to very high UV levels and it's important people remember sun protection is still needed in the coming months."

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre Associate Professor Grant McArthur said the data is indicating an emerging public health issue in men over 60.

"While prevention remains fundamental to minimise UV overexposure at every age, what we are finding is that the melanoma disease in this older age group is quite distinct and more research into this type of melanoma is crucial for treatment," he said.

Ms Heward said the updated melanoma trend data and age-based declines suggest that sun protection messages are having a positive effect on incidence rates.

"We are seeing some positive correlations with melanoma incidence rates and the younger generations who grew up with the Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign and SunSmart messages, whereas older Victorians are still experiencing higher incidence rates relating back to the pre-SunSmart days of reef oil and tin-foil tanning," she said.

"SunSmart has helped prevent more than 100,000 skin cancers and over 1000 deaths since 1988 but the challenge continues to remind people of the importance of being vigilant.

"Whilst rates are falling in younger age groups, melanoma still remains the most common cancer in 12 to 24-year-old Australians, with more than double the number of cases of any other kind of cancer. Australian adolescents have by far the highest incidence of malignant melanoma in the world, compared with adolescents in other countries," said Ms Heward.

For every dollar spent on SunSmart programs there is a net saving of $2.30 back to the Victorian health system and a comprehensive SunSmart program is one of only a handful of cost-effective interventions rated to have a large impact on Australia's future health.

The Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign and SunSmart program was first established in Victoria in the 1980s, funded by Cancer Council Victoria and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.

Victorian Cancer Registry melanoma statistics

  • In Victoria, melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in men and the third most common in women. It is the fifth most common cancer overall
  • Melanoma incidence in Victoria is 2,217 (1,241 for males and 976 for females)
  • Victorians aged 55 or over account for two-thirds of melanoma diagnoses.
  • The 60-64 age group are recording the highest incidence in men and women
  • The highest rates are in men over 60
  • Rural men at most risk with melanoma incidence rates one third higher than men in urban areas
  • 279 Victorians died in 2008 from melanoma (188 males and 91 females)
  • Melanoma survival figures are improving - for Victorians with melanoma in 2004 90% could expect to survive at least 5 years, a significant improvement over the years from 86% in 1990.