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Primary Prevention of Skin Cancer

Although skin cancers are a largely preventable group of diseases, they are Aotearoa/New Zealand’s most common type of cancer. Along with Australia, our age-standardised cutaneous malignant melanoma incidence rates are the highest in the world.

Each year more than 2,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with melanoma, a particularly serious form of skin cancer, and there are over 90,000 new cases of keratinocytic (non-melanoma) skin cancers. Around 500 New Zealanders die from skin cancers annually.

Skin cancer rates are projected to rise, largely due to our ageing and growing population, and this presents growing public health and economic challenges. Along with the personal costs, substantial public healthcare resources are consumed in managing skin cancer. The total cost of treating skin cancers is estimated to be as much as $180 million annually; around 20 percent of the total cost of treating all cancers in New Zealand.

The cause of almost all skin cancers is excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Reducing harmful levels of UVR exposure among New Zealanders is therefore critical to reducing our high skin cancer burden. Unfortunately, investment in skin cancer preventive measures has been badly neglected in Aotearoa/New Zealand for many years.

Prevention is by far the most effective and simplest way of reducing the number of skin cancer cases and deaths, as well as the on-going costs of treatment, provided interventions are comprehensively and equitably implemented.

The Cancer Society plays an important role in prevention through advocacy and the provision of the SunSmart Schools programme. However, there is much more that NZ should be doing in prevention across our education, workplace, and recreation sectors.

The Cancer Society urges the introduction of the following measures to minimise the risk of New Zealanders developing skin cancer:  

  1. Provide resources for a comprehensive, coordinated Government-led SunSmart programme, in particular, for the education, occupation and recreation sectors.
  2. Implement comprehensive SunSmart policy in local government, workplaces, schools and communities.
  3. Establish centralised and regional funding sources for the provision of more (quality) shade in the places where we live, learn, work and play.
  4. Provide investment in sustained national mass media campaigns to increase and maintain public awareness about skin cancer risk and sun-protective practices.
  5. Re-classify sunscreens as a therapeutic good and enforce compliance with the AS/NZ 2604:2021 Standard.
  6. Prioritise skin cancer prevention research to inform policy and practice specifically relevant to NZ communities.
  7. Pass legislation to remove all commercial sunbeds in Aotearoa/New Zealand.


Read our full position statement:

Position statement: Primary prevention of skin cancer