Opinion: Outing Melanoma
24 February 2016
Melanoma strikes Susie Maroney. An Australian golden girl who made the seas her element has the misfortune to encounter an Australian fact of life and one of our best-kept national secrets. We have the world’s highest rates of melanoma, 12 times the global average. The tragedy is that melanoma is 95% preventable, but we in Australia have a passionate love affair with the sun and just don’t like to talk about the downside. At 41, Susie is young, a mother with three children who needs to have many years ahead of her. She has overcome many obstacles in her life thus far and we hope melanoma will simply be another one.
Treatment for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has made marathon progress in the past five years, much of it led by Australian clinicians and researchers at Melanoma Institute Australia. Previously, the only treatment for melanoma was surgery. Today, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and radiotherapy have claimed their places as additional disciplines. A tripling of life expectancy has been achieved for people with advanced disease. While the research effort turbocharges, to prevent melanoma we have to go back to the basics.
If there is one message we would like to reach the public, it is that melanoma is the most common cancer amongst 15-39 year olds. And in 20-34 year olds it kills more young Australians than any other cancer. No one is bullet-proof. Melanoma can manifest anywhere: it’s not always a changing mole on your back, such as Susie found. It can appear on the soles of your feet, the palms of your hands, under the hair on your scalp, even under a toenail or a tattoo. And you won’t know it’s there.
An Omnipoll we recently commissioned revealed that 39 percent of Australians aged 18–34 have never had a skin check and 78% have not had one in the past year. If you’re over 20 in Australia today, you should have an initial skin check by a GP or at a skin check clinic. They can then advise, based on your personal risk factors, how often your skin needs to be checked from head to toe in the future. If melanoma is caught early, it is now very treatable.
At 17, Susie was the youngest swimmer to cross the English Channel both ways and went on to capture many more records. She has declared that during her many, many kilometres in the ocean, she did not wear sunscreen. Regular use of sunscreen and covering up with UV-protective fabrics goes a long way. On land, broad-brimmed hats and wrap-around sunglasses also help as does taking shelter in shade.
Let’s bring melanoma out of the shadows.
Chief Executive Officer, Melanoma Institute Australia
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