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New Zealand no longer the melanoma capital of the world

New Zealand has lost the title as the country with the world’s worst rates of invasive melanoma – with recent drops in local incidence now putting it behind Australia.

The study by researchers at Australia’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute examined melanoma incidence in eight moderate-to-high-risk populations across the world between 1982 and 2015.

The study has been published today in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The most recent data shows invasive melanoma rates in New Zealand have started to decline while rates in Australia have plateaued.

Invasive melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, which is capable of spreading to other parts of the body.

QIMR Berghofer Senior Scientist and Deputy Director Professor David Whiteman said the most recently available data from 2014/2015 showed about 50 in every 100,000 Australians were diagnosed with invasive melanoma, compared to about 47 out of every 100,000 New Zealanders.

“This is good news for New Zealand, with melanoma rates now dipping below those across the Tasman,” Professor Whiteman said.

“The main difference between the two countries is that in New Zealand rates have stabilised in people aged 60 to 79 years, whereas in Australia rates are still rising in this age group. Rates continue to rise for those aged 80 and over in both countries.”

The country with the third highest invasive melanoma rates was Denmark, with 34 cases per 100,000 people, but like Australia its rates have plateaued.

“While per capita invasive melanoma rates were still lower in the other population groups studied – including in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Canada and the Caucasian population of the United States – their incidence rates were still increasing at between 1.7 and 4.8 per cent per annum,” Professor Whiteman said.

Professor Whiteman said the fact that rates in New Zealand, Australia and Denmark were no longer increasing could be attributed to those countries taking more steps to implement community-wide skin cancer prevention programs.

“One possible explanation for the declining melanoma rates in New Zealand is that we could be seeing the first effects of the sun safety messages and prevention campaigns that commenced in the 1990’s, several decades after similar efforts were initiated in Australia,” he said.

“Unfortunately in North America and some countries in northern Europe, melanoma rates are rising with no signs of abating.”

Professor Whiteman said it was too early to tell if current trends in melanoma incidence in Australia, New Zealand and Denmark would continue over time.

“We need to keep monitoring different countries to know what melanoma control efforts are in place in each jurisdiction, and if and how those campaigns are working,” he said.

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