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Unmasking Melanoma

Did you know Melanoma kills one Australian every 6 hours? Unfortunately, Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world. Fortunately, and thankfully, a diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.  But with the warm summer weather with us now, it is timely to be reminded of the “slip, slop, slap” message.

The chances of surviving melanoma are getting better every year. But some cancers still become ‘resistant’ to treatment, and others don’t respond at all.

  • Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australian men, after prostate and bowel cancer, and it accounted for 12% of all new cancers diagnosed in 2017 (estimated).

  • Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australian women, after breast and bowel cancer, and it accounted for 9% of all new cancers diagnosed in 2017 (estimated).

Statistics released by Australian Institute of Health show the message is being received loud and clear since the 1980’s with the incidence of melanoma in people aged under 40 years now decreasing. The younger generation has had years of sun safety education and is listening. Unfortunately, our senior citizens used to lie on the beach slathered in coconut oil (can you smell it now?) and fry in the sun. It’s too late in the sense of significantly decreasing their risk as the damage was done years ago but we can make amends and prevent further damage.

Sadly, the incidence of melanoma continues to rise in that age bracket. Another interesting part of the research shows that it is also a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Some of the latest research shows that it is the sunburn we received before puberty, moreso intense intermittent exposure as opposed to the cumulative exposure that significantly increases your risk of melanoma. So the fast holiday suntan behaviour of years gone by was doing considerable damage for later life, not to mention the pain of sunburn at the time.

Sadly, although largely preventable by simply adopting the sun safety measures, thousands of Queenslanders continue to be diagnosed with melanoma each year.

Melanoma used to be the ‘orphan’ of cancer research – prior to 2000 there were no therapies available that could increase patients’ survival,

Advances in technologies have led to more treatment options, including immunotherapies that encourage the immune system to detect and fight the cancers, which up to 60 percent of patients respond to. For 20-25 percent of these patients, the response is ‘long-lived’, meaning a few doses of immunotherapy increase their survival by three to 10 years.

Treatment options

There are many treatment options available depending on the stage of melanoma.
The most common treatment for localised (early stage) melanoma is surgery, and in the majority of cases, this is the only treatment required.

More advanced cases of melanoma where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body may require treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted molecular therapy.

It would still be easier to remember “slip, slop, slap” and avoid the risks. Do you still sun bake or do you cover up in the sun now?

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