Objectives Queensland, the north-eastern state of Australia, has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world. Control measures started earlier here than probably anywhere else in the world; early detection programmes started in the 1960s and primary prevention in the 1980s. Data from the population-based Queensland Cancer Registry therefore provide an internationally unique data source with which to assess trends for in situ and invasive melanomas and to consider the implications for early detection and primary prevention.
Methods We used Poisson regression to estimate the annual percentage change in rates across 21 years of incidence data for in situ and invasive lesions, stratified by age and sex. Joinpoint analyses were used to assess whether there had been a statistically significant change in the trends.
Results In situ melanomas increased by 10.4% (95% CI: 10.1%, 11.1%) per year among males and 8.4% (7.9%, 8.9%) per year among females. The incidence of invasive lesions also increased, but not as quickly; males 2.6% (2.4%, 2.8%), females 1.2% (0.9%, 1.5%). Valid data on thickness was only available for 1991 to 2002 and for this period thin-invasive lesions were increasing faster than thick-invasive lesions (for example, among males: thin 3.8%, thick 2.0%). We found some suggestive evidence of lower proportionate increase for the most recent years for both in-situ and invasive lesions, but this did not achieve statistical significance. Among people younger than 35 years, the incidence of invasive melanoma was stable and there was a suggestion of a birth cohort effect from about 1958. Mortality rates were stable across all ages, and there was a suggestion of decreasing rates among young women, although this did not achieve statistical significance.
Conclusion Age-standardised incidence is continuing to increase and this, in combination with a shift to proportionately more in situ lesions, suggests that the stabilisation of mortality rates is due, in large part, to earlier detection. For primary prevention, after a substantial period of sustained effort in Queensland, there is some suggestive, but not definitive, evidence that progress is being made. Incidence rates are stabilising in those younger than 35 years and the proportionate increase for both in situ and invasive lesions appears to be lower for the most recent period compared with previous periods. However, even taking the most favourable view of these trends, primary prevention is unlikely to lead to decreases in the overall incidence rate of melanoma for at least another 20 years. Consequently, the challenge for primary prevention programmes will be to maintain momentum over the long term. If this can be achieved, the eventual public-health benefits are likely to be substantial.