Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most commonly treated cancer in Australia. It includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Prevalence of non-melanoma skin cancer
Australian population surveys estimate Non-melanoma skin cancer incidence is more than five times the incidence of all other cancers combined (Staples et al. 2006).
Due to the large numbers of lesions and people affected, Non-melanoma skin cancer is not routinely reported to cancer registries like other types of cancers. This makes it challenging to accurately estimate Non-melanoma skin cancer incidence.
To overcome this, datasets such as Medicare item codes for skin cancer treatments (that is, excisions, curettage, laser or liquid nitrogen cryotherapy treatments) are used as a proxy measure.
Between 1997 and 2010, there was a substantial increase in the number of Non-melanoma skin cancer treatments in Victoria – from 53,992 to 99,077 (Franson et al. 2012).
In 2017 in Victoria, 141,269 Non-melanoma skin cancer were treated – roughly 387 treatments every day (Medicare Australia 2017).
Cost of treatment
Non-melanoma skin cancer places a substantial cost burden on the health system. It accounts for 8.1 per cent of all health system spending on cancer in Australia – excluding cancer screening (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016).
The risk of Non-melanoma skin cancer increases with age, and the ageing of the Victorian population is likely to have contributed to an increase in the number of cancers treated and the economic burden of Non-melanoma skin cancer.
This burden falls not only on primary care, but also on hospitals through admissions and outpatient services.
In 2012–13, there were 12,700 Victorian public hospitals admissions for treating both melanoma and Non-melanoma skin cancer.
The cost was $29 million for Non-melanoma skin cancer alone.
Additionally, there were 14,000 outpatient treatments for managing skin cancer in Victoria.
In total, it is estimated to cost about $50 million ($49.3 to $55.7 million) annually to treat skin cancer in Victorian public hospitals, with the cost rising to between $121 to $127 million when private hospital admissions are also considered (Shih et al. 2017).
Cost-effectiveness of prevention
Nearly all Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia can be attributed to high exposure to ultra violet radiation, making it largely preventable with sun protective behaviours (Cancer Australia 2018).
Yet the cost per person to treat all skin cancer types is 30 times the current expenditure on skin cancer prevention in Victoria.
Economic evaluations show prevention programs are highly cost effective, with the Victorian SunSmart program returning $2.20 for every dollar invested.
From 1988 to 2011, it is estimated that SunSmart Victoria prevented more than 43,000 cases of skin cancer, including 32,200 Non-melanoma skin cancer, and 1,400 skin cancer deaths.
This demonstrates its effectiveness in saving money and lives (Shih et al. 2017).
Find out more
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016, Skin cancer in Australia, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
Franson M, Karahalios A, Sharma N, English D, Giles G and Sinclair R 2012, ‘Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia’, Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 197, no. 10, pp. 565–68.
Cancer Australia 2018, UV Radiation and cancer in Australia, Cancer Australia, Strawberry Hills, NSW.
Shih S, Carter R, Heward S and Sinclair C 2017, ‘Skin cancer has a large impact on our public hospitals but prevention programs continue to demonstrate strong economic credentials’, Australian New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 371–76.
Staples M, Elwood M, Burton R, Williams J and Giles G 2006, ‘Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia: the 2002 national survey and trends since 1985’, Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 184, no. 1, pp. 6–10.
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Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most commonly treated cancer in Australia, placing a substantial cost burden on the health system
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Reviewed 04 August 2022