Summer alert: experts urge investment in skin cancer prevention to save lives and dollars

Investing in skin cancer prevention programs could not only save lives but also significantly cut treatment costs, currently running at close to $2 billion dollars a year, say experts in a new health economics paper published today.

Mother applying suntan lotion on daughter face stock photo

The paper, which provides an overview of recent research into the economics of skin cancer prevention, is published in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute. Its authors, led by Associate Professor Louisa Gordon of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, note the huge financial burden of treating skin cancers in Australia, even though most of these cancers are avoidable and curable.

New systemic treatments for melanoma cost the Australian Government around $500 million in 2020–21, the authors say. But that is dwarfed by the costs of treating the less lethal but far more common keratinocyte cancers, standing at $1.3 billion in 2018–19. Overall, skin cancers cost the health economy nearly $2 billion every year in Australia, the authors say.

Despite this considerable economic burden and the avoidable nature of many of these cancers, there has been no national investment in skin cancer prevention in Australia for over a decade, they note.

Their review of the evidence, including findings from two Australian studies, shows that primary prevention interventions are highly cost-effective: with every dollar spent on skin cancer prevention, studies found that the return on investment was two to four times greater.

One study the authors looked at found that regular sun protection was more effective in reducing skin cancers in the general population than early detection through mass screening.

“What our paper shows is that while skin cancer is a major burden on our health system, prevention does work,” says Associate Professor Gordon.

“It’s a really important reminder to put on your hat and sunscreen when you hit the beach this summer. And it’s not just melanoma we need to be worried about – far more common skin cancers can harm our health and also add to the financial strain on our health system.”

The paper’s authors call for cost-effectiveness studies to evaluate the relative benefits of various measures, including workplace shade, personal protective wear and school-based protective clothing.

Government regulation to reduce the price of approved sunscreen products could be another way to increase sun protection, given that the average Australian consumes only 33 teaspoons of sunscreen per year, or less than one a week. The authors note that one teaspoon of sunscreen will protect just one limb for two hours.

“Investment in preventing skin cancers using public health approaches is the hallmark of cost-effective healthcare with evidence consistently showing cost benefits to government and society,” the authors conclude.

Please acknowledge Public Health Research & Practice as the source for any stories on our papers.

The link to the published article on the economics of skin cancer prevention is:

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