Melanoma rates highest in world -- and rising

Incidence rates for melanoma (skin cancer) in Australia are the highest in the world, are at levels matched only by New Zealand, and are continuing to rise, according to a report published today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report is based on data supplied by the State and Territory Cancer Registries.

Cancer in Australia 1995 shows that within Australia, Queensland had the highest rates of melanoma (60 new cases per 100,000 population in men and 44 for women). These rates were almost double those in Victoria.

Among the other States and Territories, Western Australian rates were also high for both men and women, at 49 and 36 new cases per 100,000 respectively.

Head of the AIHW Disease Registers Unit, Dr Paul Jelfs, said that though the incidence figures were worrying enough, the fact that melanoma rates were continuing to rise was potentially of greater concern.

'There has been a strong increase in melanoma incidence in Australian men over the last 10 years - of the order of 4.3% per year. While the trend in women is not quite as strong at 1.8% per year, it is rising nevertheless.

'On the positive side, a greater proportion of the melanomas diagnosed are 'thin' melanomas, which have a better prognosis when treated. And, it would appear that young people are heeding the Sun Smart message because rates in younger people are not increasing.

'Based on the latest information we have, on average 1 in 26 men and 1 in 36 women will be diagnosed with a melanoma before the age of 75. There were 7,404 new cases diagnosed in 1995 (4,087 in males and 3,317 in females).

'Exposure to UV radiation is an important risk factor in melanoma. Early detection is vital in reducing deaths from this cancer.'

Cancer in Australia 1995 shows that the most common cancers in men are cancers of the prostate, bowel (colorectal), and lung, and melanoma. In women the most common cancers are breast cancer, bowel cancer, melanoma and lung cancer.

About one in three men and one in four women develop cancer before the age of 75. In 1995 there were approximately 78,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed (43,383 males and 34,822 females) and 33,500 deaths reported due to cancer.

Generally the risk of cancer increases with age, with nearly 60% of cancers being diagnosed after the age of 65.

22 January 1999


Further information: Dr Paul Jelfs, ph. 02 6244 1140 or 04 0701 2520 (mobile).
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Check the AIHW for details.