How many Australians are having skin checks?

Skin cancers

By Michael Woodhead

16 Feb 2021

About one third of Australians have their skin checked for skin cancer by a doctor each year, with most having whole-body skin checks, new research shows.

Findings from the Australian National Sun Protection Survey show that the rate of skin checks has remained stable for most Australians since 2003, although there has been a notable increase from 29 % to 37 % in those aged 45–69 years.

The survey, which is conducted every two-three years via phone interviews with 4500-6500 respondents, showed that about one fifth of Australians reported having a whole body skin check by a doctor within the last 12 months.

Writing in Cancer Epidemiology, researchers from Sydney University said the 36% rate of skin checks reported in 2016-17 was relatively high given that Australia has no national population skin screening program and relies on opportunistic early detection.

The figures showed that women were more likely than men to have skin checks, with 23 % of females and 20 % of males reporting a whole-body skin check in 2016-17, and 11 % vs 7% reporting checks of a specific mole or spot.

Skin checks were more common among older respondents: 37 % of those aged 45–69 years having a whole-body skin check vs 20 % of those aged 25–44 years.

Other factors influencing the rate of skin checks included having, fairer skin, and higher risk perception of skin cancer, people living in Queensland and people having higher socioeconomic status.

The researchers said the findings generally reflected the awareness of increased skin cancer risk in Australia. However the lack of change in skin examination rates over time, could not account for the large increase in diagnoses of in situ melanoma of about 9% per year seen since 2006.

Possible reasons might include the widespread implementation of dermoscopy in primary and specialist practice, shifting thresholds for biopsy of suspicious lesions, or thresholds for pathologists to call melanoma in situ (diagnostic drift), they suggested.

“Our findings provide some context for understanding trends in melanoma incidence, survival and stage of disease,” they wrote.

“Australia has relatively high survival rates from melanoma, attributed mostly to greater skin cancer awareness among health professionals and the public and early detection practices ensuring that most melanomas are detected at an early stage.”

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