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  • Push for more skin cancer research dollars

    Author: AAP

Investing in skin cancer prevention not only saves lives but could also significantly cut Australia's almost $2 billion treatment bill, experts say.

While systemic melanoma treatments cost the federal government about $500 million in 2020-21, recent data shows those for far less lethal but more common keratinocyte cancers represent a $1.3 billion annual burden.

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The findings are contained in a new paper outlining recent studies into the economics of skin cancer prevention published in the peer-reviewed journal Public Health Research and Practice.

Lead author Associate Professor Louisa Gordon of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute says the huge financial impost exists despite the fact most cancers are avoidable and curable.

Even so, there has been no national investment in skin cancer prevention in Australia for over a decade.

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The review, which analysed evidence from two Australian studies, shows primary prevention interventions are highly cost-effective: every dollar spent on prevention, returns two to four times the investment.

It also found regular sun protection to be 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," Prof Gordon said.

"It's a really important reminder to put on your hat and sunscreen when you hit the beach this summer."

She says further evaluation is needed of the relative benefits of measures including workplace shade, personal protective wear and school-based protective clothing.

Regulation to reduce the price of approved sunscreen products could be another way to increase protection, given the average Australian uses only 33 teaspoons of sunscreen a year, or less than one a week.

The study's authors noted one teaspoon of sunscreen protects just one limb for two hours.

Public Health Research and Practice is published quarterly online by the Sax Institute.

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