What needs to be done to stop New Zealand's grim melanoma death rate

The Cancer Society is concerned New Zealand's fight against melanoma is falling behind other parts of the world.

Figures show the number of deaths from melanoma cancer has almost doubled in New Zealand in the past 20 years, and Cancer Society chief executive Chris Jackson told The AM Show said we are lagging behind our neigbours.

"Unfortunately we've got the world's highest rate - we took that unfortunate title off the Australians a couple of years ago," Dr Jackson said. "Some of the things they've done have really led to a big turnaround in terms of their skin cancer rates but we're falling behind."   

He said Australia has taken strong action such as making sunscreen sold in the country meeting certain standards - something National MP Todd Muller is currently advocating for in New Zealand. His Sunscreen Product Safety Standard Bill was drawn in Parliament last week.

Dr Jackson is also calling for sunscreen standards to be regulated.

"In New Zealand, sunscreen is treated like a cosmetic," he said.

Two-hundred and fifty-three people died from melanoma in 2000 compared with almost 500 deaths last year. Muller said last week New Zealand's sun is brutal.

"New Zealanders need to have confidence in the SPF claims made by sunscreen manufacturers. Voluntary compliance with the standard is simply not good enough."

Public medicines agency Pharmac and the Ministry of Health were asked by The AM Show what they do for melanoma patients. Pharmac says funded treatments include radiation, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy.

The Ministry of Health, meanwhile, says its strategies to reduce people's exposure to UV radiation largely focus on education and support. The ministry's Cancer Action Plan 2019-20 identifies the need to regulate sunscreens, as highlighted in Muller's Bill which should pass shortly.