Twenty years of melanoma in Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia (1997 - 2016)

descriptive epidemiology

What is known?

Australia and New Zealand have the highest incidence rates of melanoma in the world, and Queensland experiences by far the highest rate out of all the Australian states. The majority of melanomas (around 95%) are caused by exposure to ultra-violet radiation (UVR), so while many cases of melanoma can be prevented with the use of sun protection, Queenslanders are exposed to more extreme UVR levels than other places and the burden of the skin cancer is particularly high. We know that melanoma rates have been increasing in Australia in the past few decades, but there are gaps in our understanding of how trends in incidence and survival vary by locality and what factors may be behind these differences.

What is new?

This paper focuses on the trends in melanoma incidence and survival from 1997-2016, across Queensland and two Australian states with lower incidence (Victoria and South Australia). This is the first time melanoma data from these three states has been analysed together.

Some key differences were observed in melanoma incidence trends by state. For males, incidence rates were increasing in Queensland and Victoria in contrast to a decrease in South Australia. Among females, melanoma was increasing in Queensland over recent years, stable in Victoria and decreasing in South Australia. Another important observation was that incidence was decreasing in the under 40 age group for both males and females in all three states.

Five-year survival tended to be slightly higher in Queensland than in either Victoria or South Australia. Higher rates of survival across all states were also associated with females, younger age at diagnosis, thinner tumours and socio-economic disadvantage (except among females in Queensland). There was some evidence of improvements in survival rates for those diagnosed more recently in Queensland and Victoria, but not for South Australia.

What does this mean?

This paper covers melanoma data from more than half the Australian population, providing a more accurate picture of how trends in melanoma incidence and survival differ across Australia and by key factors. One thing that was consistently clear is that skin cancer prevention initiatives such as the “Slip! Slop! Slap!” campaign have successfully targeted children since the 1980s, leading to younger Australians having fewer cases than in the past. Further research is needed, however, to understand why Queensland is experiencing a greater increase in melanomas than other states (particularly among females) and why rates of five-year survival have remained stable in South Australia.

Contact: Danny Youlden

Reference: Venugopal K, Youlden D, Marvelde LT, Meng R, Aitken J, Evans S, Kostadinov I, Nolan R, Thomas H, D’Onise K. Twenty years of melanoma in Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia (1997 – 2016). Cancer Epidemiology. 2023; 83:102321.

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