Report reveals burden of non-melanoma skin cancer

Friday, 18 September, 2020

Report reveals burden of non-melanoma skin cancer

A Sanofi Australia report has revealed the unseen burden of non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia — which claims an estimated four lives every day and causes significant hardship for those living with the disease.1

The ‘Burden of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer’ report — developed in consultation with Rare Cancers Australia and leading cancer specialists using data analysis by PwC Australia — provides a comprehensive, up-to-date analysis of the impact of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC), commonly referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers.

Based on modelling of relative survival data, the report projects that up to 1700 Australians will lose their life to advanced non-melanoma skin cancer this year.1

In response to the findings, leading cancer clinicians and advocacy organisations are calling for better public awareness, more comprehensive data collection and improved patient access to medicines. These measures will help tackle Australia’s most commonly diagnosed cancer,2 with incident rates estimated to be the highest in the world.3

According to Associate Professor Alex Guminski from Northern Sydney Cancer Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital, Australians have some blind spots when it comes to non-melanoma skin cancers.

“Skin cancers, unlike other cancers, are not comprehensively recorded; however, a community survey has previously estimated that around two in every three Australians will be diagnosed with a non-melanoma skin cancer by the age of 70.2,4

“Fortunately the great majority of these can be easily cured; however, this means most people don’t realise that some can be more complicated to treat and potentially deadly,” Associate Professor Guminski said.

“The stark reality is the mortality rate for non-melanoma skin cancer is significant and by some estimates could be responsible for more deaths in Australia than melanoma in the coming years. In contrast, the mortality rate for melanoma appears to have declined over the last few years, possibly due to greater awareness among the general population and the availability of newer treatments for advanced melanoma.”5

The report highlights that people living with advanced or recurring non-melanoma skin cancers can experience significant social isolation and poor mental health.1 People living in rural and remote areas, particularly older males and members of the farming community, may be especially vulnerable to the physical and mental impact of non-melanoma skin cancer.3,6,7

Rare Cancers Australia CEO Richard Vines said there are significant social and economic benefits to improving outcomes for people living with ‘hidden cancers’ like non-melanoma skin cancer.

“The sense of isolation and confusion these people often feel is understandable, given the lack of information and support currently available. These people need greater levels of care so they can continue to enjoy life with their family, community and at work,” Vines said.

“We need greater public awareness of non-melanoma skin cancers to dispel common misconception; more research to help understand the problems faced by those affected; and better access to life-extending treatment options. In particular, we need to focus improved care and treatment on older people and those living in rural areas where our hot Australian sun often takes a devastating toll.”

Associate Professor Guminski added, “I think because non-melanoma skin cancers are very common, and most can be easily cured if diagnosed early, we aren’t fully aware that some are more aggressive, and we don’t have a perception in the community of advanced non-melanoma skin cancers. I don’t think people recognise that these cancers can be deadly, especially if left untreated, and they don’t really know what signs to look for.

“Australians need to identify non-melanoma skin cancers and have their skin checked regularly by their doctor. This is particularly important for those at higher risk, such as older people, those living in rural areas and people who work outdoors. But we also need to help people to navigate the health system so that they can access the appropriate specialists for their needs.”

  1. Sanofi. 2020. The burden of non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Skin cancer in Australia. Canberra, ACT: AIHW, Department of Health; 2016 Jul 13. Report No.: CAN 96. Retrieved from:
  3. Khazei Z et al. WCRJ 2019; 6: e1265 [Online] Available at: last accessed 12 June 2020
  4. Cancer Council Australia. What is skin cancer. [Online] Available at: last accessed 15 September 2020.
  5. Czarnecki DC. Correspondence: Mortality from skin cancer in Australia; 1981-2016. International Journal of Dermatology 2020. Jun 29. doi: 10.1111/ijd.15013. Online ahead of print
  6. Makin JK, Dobbinson SJ, & Doyle C. (2009). Victorian farmers’ and other rural outdoor workers’ skin cancer prevention knowledge and practices. Journal of Occupational Health and Safety, Australia and New Zealand, 25(2), 115.
  7. Gallagher RP, Bajdik CD, Fincham S, Hill GB, Keefe AR, Coldman A, & McLean DI. (1996). Chemical exposures, medical history, and risk of squamous and basal cell carcinoma of the skin. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers, 5(6), 419-424.

Image caption: Campaign ambassador and former Australian cricketer Peter Taylor.

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