The cost of treating Australia’s most common and expensive cancer will blow out to more than $700 million by 2015 as the population ages, according to a study published in the 19 November issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.
More than $510 million was spent diagnosing, treating and testing non-melanoma skin cancers - which include basal and squamous cell carcinomas – in 2010, and a team of researchers led by Epworth and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne dermatologist Professor Rodney Sinclair estimate the cost will soar in the next three years as the ranks of older Australians swell and the number of cases surges.
“Australia has the highest incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer in the world,” the authors wrote. “It already places a high burden on the population, health care system and government. We predict it will continue to be the most costly cancer in Australia.
An analysis of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) data by Professor Sinclair and his colleagues found that the number of claims for non-melanoma skin cancer treatments virtually doubled between 1997 and 2010, from almost 412,500 procedures to more than 767,000, pushing the payout of benefits from $42.5 million to $93.5 million.
Taking into account expenses associated with diagnosis, treatment and pathology, the researchers found the total cost of treating non-melanoma skin cancers swelled from $264 million in 2001 to $511 million in 2010, and predict it will reach $703 million by 2015. The authors wrote that the MBS figures indicated the SunSmart campaign and other public health measures were helping to lower non-melanoma skin cancer rates among younger people, but the overall incidence of the disease was set to climb in the short term as the Baby Boomer generation aged.
“The risk of non-melanoma skin cancer increases with age, and the ageing of the Australian population may increase the burden of non-melanoma skin cancer on the Australian health system,” the authors wrote.
The researchers found that 83 per cent of the 767,347 procedures carried out in 2010 were for people aged 55 years or older, and estimated that in 2015 more than 630,000 of the 900,000 treatments expected to be carried out will be for patients 65 years or older.