Australia has one of the highest rates of Melanoma in the world and in 2019, made up 11% of cancer cases. It’s more commonly diagnosed in men than women but early detection procedures and treatment contribute to a good prognosis, with 91% of people surviving it.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a potentially serious cancer that develops in the skin’s melanocytes. Melanocytes are responsible for producing melanin which protect the skin by absorbing UV light. Melanin is the skin’s natural defense against the ultra-violet rays of the sun.
Moles are formed on the skin often in childhood when melanocyte cells aggregate together. Most moles are safe and stay as they are, but in some cases the melanocytes begin to grow and divide in an irregular way. If they expand outwards or deeper into the skin, they can become a melanoma, also called a malignant melanoma.
Melanoma facts and statistics
From the Melanoma Institute of Australia:
- Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australian men, after prostate and colorectal cancer
- Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australian women, after breast and colorectal cancer
- Melanoma is the most common cancer affecting 15 to 39-year-old Australians
What increases the risks of Melanoma?
Although the actual reason melanomas begin is not known, science shows the leading cause is prolonged exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. There are other factors that increase the risks of melanoma as follows:
- Age – the most common age group to grow melanomas is 45-64 years old which has the highest incidence of 38%.
- Regular sun exposure with no protection
- A family history of melanomas
- Skin that is fairer and burns easily in the sun
- A pattern of short, intense periods of exposure to UV radiation
- A depressed immune system
- High Mole count
- Pattern of sunburn throughout your life and childhood
How do you check for Melanoma?
Melanomas often first appear as unusual looking moles or freckles. They can develop anywhere on the body, not just the areas exposed to the sun. In fact around 40% of melanomas in men will develop on their backs and 30% of melanomas in women occur on their legs.
Melanomas often have no symptoms, which is why regular check-ups are needed to detect any changing moles. They will start to spread horizontally first and then they’ll begin to grow vertically creating a thickened and raised area. Here are some things to look for when checking your own skin at home.
- Colour – a mole may change colour or become blotchy
- Size – a mole may grow larger
- Shape – a mole may have an irregular shape
- Elevation – a mole may develop a raised area
- Irritation – a mole may get itchy or start to bleed
Melanoma can occur anywhere on your skin, on nails, the soles of the feet, the palms of your hands (Acral Melanoma), and even the retina of the eye. When we assess for skin lesions we look at all these areas of your body.
What treatments are available for Melanomas?
Treatment of melanomas depends upon your general health, where the melanoma is situated and the size and thickness of Melanoma itself which is determined after staging. Staging is the diagnosis of the potential of the melanoma and how far it has spread in the skin. Below is a list of types of treatments available. We cannot emphasise enough that recognising a melanoma early and treating it with surgery is the most effective way to recover.
Surgery – surgery is the most common treatment for Melanomas and is successful in most cases. The earlier the intervention, the better the prognosis. Most melanomas are treated with a wide local excision once diagnosed.
Targeted therapies – a targeted therapy is a specific drug used to block the growth of the melanoma cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in its growth.
Immunotherapy – immunotherapy is a treatment that supports the body’s own immune system to fight melanoma.
Radiation – if surgery is not successful to remove the melanoma, then radiation therapy may be recommended. Radiation therapy uses x-rays to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA.
New treatments available for metastatic melanomas are very encouraging and showing promise for improving our patients’ outcomes.
Prevention is always better than cure in the case of Melanomas. The most effective way to prevent melanoma is to practice sun safety at all times, especially with children. Avoid the sun during the hotter parts of the day and remember to slip, slop and slap.
New moles or existing moles which have changed in colour shape or texture should be checked so surveillance is essential.
Skintech GP’s in Victor Harbor have a special interest in skin cancers
Skintech have a number of accredited and dedicated doctors at Skintech in Victor Harbor who have a special interest in Skin Cancer Medicine. We have had extensive skin cancer training through the Skin Cancer College of Australasia and are here to help with surveillance of your skin, skin cancer care and management.
We have many years of experience and have access to up to date technology to help with management and surveillance of skin lesions. Ongoing and continuing medical education in this field is paramount for us to maintain our accreditation and ensure we provide a service to help accurately detect, monitor and treat any suspicious lesions.
We’ll help you learn how to scan your own skin and report anything that is sore, changing, abnormal or new. Contact us at 08 7078 2267 to book an appointment. We’re located at 23 Mayfield Terrace Victor Harbor.