Cancer Focus NI Research reveals £17m annual cost of treating Skin Cancer

26 October 2023

Charity calls for ambitious new Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy to ease the burden on the health service, as half of cases are preventable.

Cancer Focus NI Research reveals 17m annual cost of treating Skin Cancer
(L-R) Richard Spratt, Chief Executive, Cancer Focus, Jennifer Parkinson, melanoma patient, and Dr Ethna McFerran, Cancer Health Economist, Queen’s University Belfast.

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland has launched new research showing that the cost of skin cancer diagnosis and treatment in Northern Ireland is over £17m a year, and is set to rise.

Skin cancer is Northern Ireland’s most common cancer, with over 4000 recorded cases annually (11 new cases diagnosed every day).  It accounts for almost a third of the cancers diagnosed here each year.

At least 50% of cases of skin cancer can be preventable.

The study, sponsored by Cancer Focus NI, has revealed that the treatment of each case of the most serious skin cancer, malignant melanoma, costs around £30,000.  The figures also show that this cost has increased 10-fold in the last decade, largely due to rising chemotherapy costs.

Cases of melanoma in NI are predicted to rise by 28% by 2040, adding an estimated £3.3 million every year (not including inflation). 

Cancer Focus NI is calling for more investment in public health promotion aimed at prevention and early detection.

View the published research here: LINK.

Richard Spratt, Chief Executive, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, said:

“Within the current Public Health Agency funding, our charity receives less than 4p per head of population to be spent on prevention and early detection. With better investment in prevention, we are certain that we could prevent many skin cancers in the future, which would be a massive saving to the public purse.

“To tackle the predicted rise in melanoma cases, radical initiatives such as banning sunbeds, well-funded mass media awareness campaigns and prevention activities are essential.  A ban on sunbeds could result in a nearly 50% decrease in additional melanomas.

“In summary, skin cancer is rising, it is expensive to treat, and it can be preventable.  Increased measures aimed at prevention would reduce the numbers and could dramatically ease the burden on the health service. The Department of Health must continue to prioritise skin cancer and develop an ambitious new strategy to tackle this preventable condition”.

The charity warns that the projected rise in skin cancer cases will also impact the current diagnosis times for both skin cancers and other skin conditions if capacity within the Health Trusts is not raised.

Cancer Focus NI is working with the South Eastern Trust on a pioneering new mole mapping service, using Artificial Intelligence to produce a fully automated total body map which detect some skin cancers, for those at high risk, at an earlier stage.

Dr Ethna McFerran, Cancer Health Economist at Queen’s University Belfast, conducted the research.  She said:

“In the past, many people died from melanoma but with improved treatments, people are surviving their diagnosis.  However, this means that a greater number of people require more treatment, which is expensive.  An investment in preventing skin cancer has long term positive outcomes for both society and the public purse.”

Richard Spratt continued:

While our focus today is on monetary costs, it is important to remember that real people’s lives are at the centre of this research. We all know that the cost for each patient with a skin cancer diagnosis is much, much greater than pounds and pence.”

Jennifer Parkinson from Castlereagh has had recurrent malignant melanoma that started with a worrying mole.  Sharing her experience of treatment and surgery which put her life on hold for almost a year, she endorsed the message that prevention is better than cure.  She said:

“I’d advise everyone to take any steps they can to avoid skin cancer at all costs because, for me, dealing with diagnosis and treatment is a tough journey. Although I was fortunate enough to be seen by the hospital within 3 weeks of visiting my GP after being concerned about a mole, I found my diagnosis and subsequent immunotherapy treatment very challenging and needed to take 11 months off work. 

“My advice is, look after your skin and if in doubt, get it checked out without delay.”