Call for urgent melanoma screening

Australia must implement a national melanoma screening program like those in place for bowel and breast cancer say Queensland health researchers.

This follows publication by a team from Southern Cross University (SCU) on the Gold Coast of a study that found only 21.7% of participants were able to correctly self-identify malignant melanomas, either in situ (on the surface) or invasive (below the skin), as lesions of concern.

The findings are published in the journal Peer J.

High-risk individuals in Australia are recommended to undergo regular skin cancer examinations. However, this is not endorsed for asymptomatic or low-risk individuals, who are encouraged to self-identify suspicious spots and then seek a professional skin check.

In the study biopsies were carried out on suspected melanoma lesions in 260 participants. More than 80 of the lesions (31.9%) were found to be malignant melanomas. But only 21.7% of participants had had concerns about the suspect lesion being a malignant melanoma.

“Based on my experience with patients contributing to this data here on the Gold Coast, many were unaware they had skin cancer,” says Associate Professor Michael Stapelberg of SCU and a skin cancer doctor at the John Flynn Hospital Specialist Centre on the Gold Coast.

“Interestingly, most of these patients had few risk factors for melanoma, yet still had a melanoma that they were completely unaware of detected during their skin check. The detected melanomas were generally small, which could make self-detection even more challenging for these individuals.

“Alarmingly, what would happen to these individuals if they were guided to not opportunistically present for a skin check, because they should be able to detect their own melanoma? Our findings should hopefully help guide decisions on eligibility for future melanoma screening programs.”

A photograph of a light brown spot on skin
A patient involved in the study was unaware this lesion on their back was a malignant melanoma. Credit: Climstein et al

The researchers say national prevention campaigns should also include images and primary risk factors for malignant melanomas.

“Early detection of melanoma is crucial to improve outcomes, minimise treatment complexity, and enhance the quality of life for patients,” says project leader Mike Climstein.

“We recommend regular outdoor users – walkers and runners, swimmers and surfers – who are at a much higher risk of melanoma, should undergo screening once a year regardless.

“For everyone else, if you either work or exercise out in the sun, particularly during peak ultraviolet radiation (10am to 2pm) or you have a higher risk of skin cancer such as history of melanoma or skin cancer, family history of skin cancer, have fair or freckled skin, have red or fair hair or lots of moles on your body, you should be getting screened every six months by your skin cancer doctor.”

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