Our own 'Australian Story'

Our own 'Australian Story'

30 April 2018

ABC TV’s flagship current affairs program Australian Story recently featured the young and determined melanoma advocate Emma Betts, who passed away last April from melanoma. Emma was only 22 years old when a diving instructor urged her to get a suspicious mole on the back of her shoulder checked. It was melanoma.

Sadly, Emma’s story is all too common - a young Australian succumbing to melanoma in the prime of her life. Melanoma is the most common cancer affecting 15 to 39 year old Australians, and kills more 20 to 39 year olds than any other cancer.

However, what was uncommon was the subtype of Emma’s primary melanoma. So unusual was the mole she’d had removed, it was sent from Brisbane to Sydney’s Melanoma Institute Australia for assessment by Professor Richard Scolyer, the world’s leading pathologist specialising in melanoma.

“Emma’s melanoma was unusual because it didn’t look like a typical melanoma at all”, said Professor Scolyer, Conjoint Medical Director of MIA.

Professor Scolyer said Emma’s case was an example of naevoid melanoma - a subtype of melanoma that clinically and pathologically resembles a benign naevus.  Only extremely subtle clues allow correct diagnosis of melanoma to be made at the time the primary tumour is biopsied.

“In Emma’s case, her melanoma was particularly subtle,” Professor Scolyer recalls. “But if you looked closely, the signs were there and I made the initial diagnosis that it was in fact melanoma”.

“I often use Emma’s case in my presentations to skin specialists around the world to illustrate how subtle and difficult some melanomas can be to diagnose. Emma has become my own ‘Australian Story’ that I regularly tell across the globe to highlight the difficulties but also the importance of accuracy and precision when diagnosing melanoma. Her legacy continues to help other melanoma patients around the world”, he said.

Emma’s story also highlights the significant role that pathologists play in ensuring patients are diagnosed early and accurately, giving them the best opportunity for prompt and effective treatments.  

Melanoma Institute Australia is currently conducting a molecular research study of this melanoma subtype to try and better understand what drives it.

 You can watch Emma Betts’ Australian Story on ABC iview www.iview.abc.net.au

Donations in Emma’s memory to support MIA’s research can be made here https://melanoma.secure.force.com/Donate/EmmaBetts