Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia: the 2002 national survey and trends since 1985

Margaret P Staples, Mark Elwood, Robert C Burton, Jodie L Williams, Robin Marks and Graham G Giles
Med J Aust 2006; 184 (1): 6-10.


Objectives: To measure the incidence of treated non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) in Australia in 2002 and investigate trends since 1985 by histological type, sex, age group, latitude and skin type.


Design: Face-to-face survey between 1 January and 31 December 2002 using stratified sampling of households to identify people treated for skin cancer in the previous 12 months. Self-reported diagnoses were confirmed with treatment providers. Data from similar surveys conducted in 1985, 1990 and 1995 were used to assess trends.


Setting: Whole of Australia (population 19.6 million).


Participants: Of 57 215 people interviewed, 4098 said they had been treated for skin cancer in the past year and 3198 gave permission for their diagnoses to be confirmed with their doctor.


Results: 817 people were confirmed as having at least one skin cancer treated in the past year. The age-standardised rate per 100 000 population for NMSC was 1170, for basal cell carcinoma (BCC) 884, and for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) 387. The estimated number of NMSC cases in Australia for 2002 was 374 000. Cumulative risks to age 70 years of having at least one NMSC were 70% for men and 58% for women. Rates of BCC and SCC have increased since 1985, and the increases greatest for people aged 60 years and older; rates for those younger than 60 years have stabilised.


Conclusions: The incidence of treated NMSC in Australia in 2002 was more than five times the incidence of all other cancers combined. Although the overall NMSC rates have risen since 1985, the stabilisation of rates for people younger than 60 years who were exposed to skin cancer prevention programs in their youth highlights the importance of maintaining and strengthening these programs.


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  • Margaret P Staples1
  • Mark Elwood2
  • Robert C Burton3
  • Jodie L Williams4
  • Robin Marks5
  • Graham G Giles6

  • 1 National Cancer Control Initiative, Carlton, VIC.
  • 2 Department of Dermatology, St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy, VIC.
  • 3 Cancer Epidemiology Centre, The Cancer Council Victoria, Carlton, VIC.



We are grateful to all the participants who allowed us to contact their doctor and to all the doctors who provided us with details of the diagnoses.

Competing interests:

The Cancer Councils of New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, and the Queensland Cancer Fund provided funding to conduct the survey. The work was supported by the National Cancer Control Initiative (NCCI) and the report was prepared on behalf of the NCCI Non-melanoma Skin Cancer Working Group, which had responsibility for the study design, analysis and interpretation and writing of this article. The NCCI is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing with support from The Cancer Council Australia and The Cancer Council Victoria.

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