According to a just released study we have the highest number of  newly diagnosed skin cancer rates in the world and the Cancer Society is blaming a lack of investment in prevention programmes.

The Skin Cancer Index 2018 analysed 62 countries based on skin cancer susceptibility and socio-economic factors.

It also found that despite topping the index in terms of the numbers  of diagnoses, we are not even in the top ten for investing the most in reducing skin cancer – we sit at 16th.

The dire index findings reflect the severity of the problem in New Zealand where more people die from melanomas every year than they do from car accidents, says Chief executive of the Cancer Society Mike Kernaghan.

“This is due to a lack of investment in sustained  campaigns,” he says.

“And it’s not a quick fix situation. The damage being done to our skin now means we will still have the highest skin cancer rates in the world 20 years from now.”

German skin site’s derma.plus released the comparing analysis last week. And the Cancer Society is unsurprised by the results.

“Outside of $600,000 given to the HPA annually to fund a programme aimed at teens to not get skin cancer – the government are not investing in programmes we know work. The Ministry of Health is not investing in warnings on the dangers of UV rays. They just aren’t investing in it,” says Cancer Society National Office chief executive Mike Kernaghan.

“We are very disappointed that we have slipped behind Australia. In the mid 2000’s, there were around 67,000 new skin cancers cases annually of which 2.5 to three per cent were melanomas. While we have maintained that low percentage of melanomas, we now have 90,000 cases of skin cancer a year.

“Currently we are the only organisation that invests any money in the delivering of sun safe messages in primary intermediate schools, and Early Childhood Education.  We receive no direct government funding but we have managed up 40 per cent of schools accredited as Sun Smart schools. That still means close to 60 per cent of schools which aren’t.

“Australia is our comparator – we used to be equal. We know that Australia has maintained their investment at state level to educate people on sun safety messages while here we have not. Look at their investment over the last 10 – 15 years, they’ve improved and we have gotten worse.

“Here we have the tools to measure the UV indicators, we know that the slip slop slap and wrap campaign works; we now have technology to make shade cloths which means people get to experience the warm shade but not the harmful UV rays. People need to be educated about the risk of skin cancer they need to know that the sun is still damaging on cloudy days for example.”

Divided into two sections, the International Skin Cancer Index can be divided into the Skin Cancer Susceptibility Index and the Socio-Economic Treatment Index. The first index analyses the UV factor, the average population skin-tone and the rate of incidences from a range of countries to identify geographically where the highest rates of skin cancer are most likely to occur. The latter, cross references national health spending, access to treatment and individual income against mortality rates to better understand the efforts undertaken worldwide to combat the disease.

“Incidence of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has increased dramatically over the past decades,” states Prof. Dietrich Abeck, chief medical advisor for derma.plus. “This study is indicative that a high level of UV exposure, coupled with a lighter skin tone (as calculated by the Fitzpatrick-Scale) led to a higher diagnosis of skin cancer.”

The index findings also suggest however, that countries such as New Zealand and Australia, which have some of the highest incidences of skin cancer, also have some of the lowest death rates due to high levels of health expenditure.

The Cancer Society’s Advocacy and Well-Being manager Shayne Nahu urges caution when interpreting the findings around health expenditure and death rates.

“The model used is very complex and compares countries with very different economies, populations, and health systems.

“We know New Zealand has the highest death rate from melanoma in the world, and with more people dying from skin cancers in New Zealand than from road crashes we need to take it seriously.”

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin added that existing regulation of sunscreens and sunbeds isn’t providing sufficient consumer protection and it’s time the government made the sunscreen standard mandatory and banned sunbeds. “These measures are already in place in Australia and with our higher skin cancer rates it’s not good enough our regulations are lagging behind.”

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