In the circumstances, the Federal Government must commit itself to a long-term SunSmart campaign or face unsustainable medical costs, Cancer Council Australia said on 15 October 2008.
The report jointly released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Cancer Australia revealed the prevalence of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) in the country.
"In 2008, around 434,000 people will be diagnosed with one or more non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia, and data from 2006 show that there were over 400 deaths in that year from NMSC," said Professor David Roder, commenting on the report.
"But unlike other cancers, NMSC is not reportable by law to cancer registries. As a result, incidence and prevalence statistics are not routinely available," he said.
The report, Non-melanoma skin cancer: General practice consultations, hospitalisation and mortality
, is intended to fill some of the gaps in data availability by analysing the impact these cancers have on doctors' workloads, hospital inpatient admissions and mortality.
"It found that there were an estimated 950,000 GP visits per year (between April 2005 and March 2007) for NMSC." said Melissa Goodwin of the AIHW's Health Registers and Cancer Monitoring Unit.
Hospital stays for NMSC more than doubled between 1993-94 and 2006-07, from 35,833 to 79,792.
Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Ian Olver said if current trends continued Australia would struggle to pay its skin cancer treatment bill.
"If this trend continues, we will soon see more than a million GP consultations each year for non-melanoma skin cancer. This is a huge health system cost burden for a cancer that is almost entirely preventable through appropriate sun protection."
The report also revealed that almost 75 per cent more males were hospitalised than females.
As with many other cancers, non-melanoma skin cancer mortality rates were significantly higher in outer regional areas and significantly lower in the most socioeconomically advantaged areas.
Professor Olver said while the report states that the full extent of non-melanoma skin cancer prevalence remains unclear, what is clear is that the associated cost burden is enormous - and that SunSmart education campaigns can influence behaviour change to reduce it.
"Skin cancer prevention campaigns work, yet they have only been run at the national level since the summer of 2006-07," he said. "And there is no commitment to a campaign beyond the summer that is rapidly approaching.
"The Rudd Government has committed to a new, invigorated approach to disease prevention. As part of this approach, an ongoing investment in a national SunSmart campaign should be built into the next federal budget."
Professor Olver said the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation in most cases appeared in later life, so the ageing of Australia's population over the next four decades meant non-melanoma skin cancer costs would escalate if investment in prevention did not occur now.
The report showed that while incidence rates, general practitioner visits, and hospital inpatient rates all increased over time, there was no corresponding increase in mortality rates.