NZ melanoma rate overtakes Australia

NZ melanoma rate overtakes Australia

New Zealand now has the world's highest rate of the deadliest form of skin cancer and it's still getting worse, a study has found.

Doctors are now accusing the Government of dropping the ball when it comes to preventing melanoma.

Researchers at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research in Brisbane found New Zealand has now passed Australia for the highest per-capita rate of invasive melanoma.

That's because since 2005, Australia's rate has been falling while New Zealand's has been on the rise, and expected to keep growing until at least 2017, according to the research published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

"Despite growing evidence that skin cancer prevention initiatives can help avoid melanoma and save lives, governments have not been willing to adequately fund them," says Associate Professor Tony Reeder of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago.

"This is despite skin cancer being identified in 2002 by the expert working group on cancer primary prevention as a priority for The New Zealand cancer control strategy."

Dr Reeder says not only does the Government need to commit more funding to melanoma research, but follow Australia and ban commercial tanning beds.

But researcher Professor David Whiteman said the news was not all bad, and the study predicted New Zealand would join Australia in declining rates soon.

"We think the main reason why rates in Australia, and we hope New Zealand, will decline before the other populations is that both countries have put a huge effort into primary prevention campaigns," Prof Whiteman said.

But although the rates would begin falling soon, the number of total cases would keep going up because of an ageing population, Prof Whiteman said.

"Unfortunately for older New Zealanders alive today, most will have already sustained significant amounts of sun damage before the prevention campaigns were introduced," he said.

"Those people are developing melanomas now, many decades after the cancer-causing exposure to sunlight occurred."

He said while New Zealanders had become more sun smart more could be done to prevent skin cancer.

There have also been calls for more investment into funding melanoma prevention over coming years to limit increasing treatment costs.

"Skin cancer prevention initiatives are highly cost effective and an important public health investment," says Dr Ben Tallon of Melanoma NZ. "It's an investment the New Zealand Government must make."

The study compared the frequency of the skin cancer over the three decades in six countries, also including Britain, Sweden, Norway and the United States.

The researchers found New Zealand's rate of invasive melanoma nearly doubled from 1982 to 2011, while Australia's peaked in 2005 and began falling.

NZN / Newshub.