Editorial: Skin cancer data sorely lacking

23:04, Jul 29 2014

Question: if non-melanoma skin cancers are killing 130 of us each year, and that rate is likely to rise considerably as baby boomers face their long-time-coming reckoning for all those Coppertone years, how serenely patient should we be about committing resources to the cause of monitoring the problem in the name of earlier detection and treatment?

It's fair enough that the most dangerous skin cancer type, melanoma, is already being monitored given that it killed 324 New Zealanders in 2010. (This - heavy sighs - is the most recent data available.)

But apparently we have been operating a resolutely first-past-the-post system for prioritising responses, given there's no monitoring of the 130 deaths that year from the statistical also-rans in the non-melanoma category that makes up 97 per cent of all cases.

Collection of data on that little lot stopped in the late 1950s and calls from the Cancer Society and some specialists for it to resume are being met with the open-palmed response from Cancer Control NZ that, in effect, the result would be too much information. High numbers would overwhelm the register and the work would simply be too costly.

In other words, we're being told the big picture here would just take too much resourcing to bring into focus. Somehow, however, Australia has reached a different conclusion and has determined to monitor the entire skin disease spectrum among its own people. On top of which, surely the estimated $123 million that non-melanoma skin cancer is costing our nation each year should be some sort of incentive. This is absolutely a disease that, if identified early, is generally able to be treated and cured.

Granted, a study in Auckland is examining the diagnosis and treatment of non-melanoma cancers. But the adequacy of the national approach to date has emphatically been called into question.

On a community level, we should be careful not to put too much faith in those factor-50 suncreams that, research shows, offer powerful protection against burning - but that slow the onset of cancer rather than negating the risk. They were developed to prevent the immediate effects of sun exposure, like burning, but not the invisible DNA damage.


The Southland Times