The Alliance gives evidence on skin cancer

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Alliance was the first body to appear at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health in relation to the Committee's inquiry into skin cancer in Australia (Tuesday 25 March.

The Alliance's purpose was to ensure that the Committee recognises the particular circumstances and needs, where skin cancer is concerned, of the more than 6.7 million people in rural and remote communities.

In its submission and opening statement at the public hearing the Alliance emphasised the fact that, across all cancers, the impact is worse for older people, people of low socio-economic status and those in rural and remote areas. The mortality rate from all cancers combined is higher for people in remote areas, where the five-year survival rate is lower than for any other location.

The incidence of new cases of melanoma is significantly higher in regional areas than in Major cities, and diagnosis tends to be later, especially among men. The incidence is increasing among people aged 65 years and over.

Figures showing mortality rates from melanoma by location are confounded by the fact that some of those diagnosed with melanoma re-locate to larger communities, particularly towards the end stages of the condition. Farmers have a 60 per cent higher death rate due to melanoma and other malignant skin cancers than the general population, and skin cancer deaths in farmers 65 years of age and over are more than double the rate of other Australians in that age group.

Despite their serious mal-distribution between capital city and country areas, nurses, doctors and allied health professionals are at the heart of primary care, including for skin cancer. Skin cancer awareness, early diagnosis and management should therefore be given a high priority in work to support and extend the expertise of existing health professionals in rural and remote areas

Better support could be provided through more training in skin cancer for health students, continuing professional development for health professionals in rural and remote areas, and enhanced access to and support for clinical decision-making support tools such as for teledermatology and other telehealth programs. There is potential for further development of telehealth to better target specialties such as skin cancer and to better involve the full range of local health professionals, whether through the MBS or in community or hospital settings.

With regard to awareness and prevention, health promotion messages need to be sustained over a long period and effectively targeted to people living in rural and remote areas. Evidence from quit-smoking campaigns suggests that the messages are not being received and acted upon in rural and remote areas to the extent they are in the major cities. The same could be true for skin care messages.

You can see all of the submissions and follow the public hearings on the Parliamentary website Inquiry into Skin Cancer in Australia.