Call for all skin cancer types to be on register

If the Ministry of Health does not start to monitor all skin cancer types then we will never truly understand the cost and burden on our community, a Manawatu health advocate says.

The Cancer Society is calling for the ministry to record cases of non-melanoma skin cancer, which is estimated to cost New Zealand $123 million a year. It stopped data collection of the disease in 1958.

An estimate based on data from 1998 shows about 67,000 Kiwis are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers every year.

Manawatu Cancer Society community health advocate Kerry Hocquard said without the information being recorded it was hard to judge the cost to the community.

"It's a huge burden and it's really difficult to capture. We don't really know what the cost is to the community," she said.

"This is a problem because it's not recorded so it's difficult to say estimates, it's difficult to notice the actual burden."

Hocquard said statistics from Australia, which did monitor non-melanoma skin cancer cases, showed that it was very likely that the figures in New Zealand were similar.

"People have always thought non-melanoma was going to be superficial, but now we're starting to see it causing huge problems and people can die from it."

Monitoring of non-melanoma cases would help us understand the impact on our community and assist in planning for the resources needed in skin cancer detection and treatment, Hocquard said.

"The Cancer Society of New Zealand Manawatu Centre aims to reduce the rate of melanoma and other skin cancers in the Manawatu region caused by harmful exposure to the sun.

"This goal can only be achieved with a community commitment to reducing the risks of skin cancer through SunSmart policies in schools and workplaces, SunSmart behaviour in the outdoors and the creation of SunSmart environments in which we live, work and play."

Cancer Society deputy chief executive and health promotion manager, Dr Jan Pearson, wrote to the ministry in May pleading for it to start counting non-melanoma cases. Melanoma, the most fatal type of skin cancer, is monitored.

According to the ministry's latest cancer statistics, 2341 people were diagnosed with it in 2010 and it killed 324 people.

Pearson said 454 people were registered as dying of skin cancer that year, so about 130 people died of non-melanoma skin cancer.

In January, the ministry's independent advisory body, Cancer Control New Zealand, said collecting data would overwhelm the register because of the high numbers and would cost too much.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer affecting New Zealanders, with the total number of new melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer cases amounting to about 80 per cent of all new cancers each year.

New Zealand, along with Australia, has among the highest melanoma rates in the world.

Manawatu Standard