Prevalence of skin examination behaviours among Australians over time

What is known?

Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world, which have almost doubled over the past 35 years to 49 per 100,000 people.

Early detection of melanoma is associated with significantly better 10-year survival rates compared to melanoma diagnosed at an advanced stage where it has spread to the lymph nodes (95% vs. 69%). An increasing proportion of melanomas in Australia are diagnosed at an early stage and it is not clear whether this is due to increasing skin checks or to other reasons, such as improved diagnostic technologies or changes in diagnostic criteria.

What is new?

In repeated surveys as part of the National Sun Protection Survey between 2006 and 2017, a population-based sample of Australians aged 12-69 years were asked if a doctor had checked their skin for cancer in the previous 12 months. Those who answered “yes” were asked if they had a whole-body, part-body or specific mole check.

The results showed that the proportion of Australians self-reporting whole-body skin checks remained relatively stable at approximately 20% – 22%, although there was a slight increase among the 45–69 year age group over the 10-year period.

Whole-body skin checks were practices more commonly among older age groups and females, and varied by location, skin sensitivity, skin colour, risk perception, and socio-economic index.

What does this mean?

Whole-body skin check behaviours in Australia have remained relatively stable overall but differ according to an individual’s personal risk and socio-demographic status. The large increase in the rates of very early melanoma in the Australian population are not explained by changes in skin check behaviours.

Contact: Joanne Aitken

Reference: Reyes-Marcelino G, Tabbakh T, Espinoza D, Sinclair C, Kang YJ, McLoughlin K, Caruana M, Fernandez-Penas P, Guitera P, Aitken JF, Canfell K, Dobbinson S, Cust AE. Prevalence of skin examination behaviours among Australians over time. Cancer Epidemiology. 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2020.101874.

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