Australia has long been the world leader in the incidence of melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma skin cancer causes the majority of skin cancer deaths. In recent years, thanks largely to public awareness programs, the incidence of melanoma (new cases diagnosed per 100,000 people per year) has stabilised for people born after 1965 and begun to decline for those born after 1980. In spite of this, melanoma remains themost common cancer affecting 15 to 39 year old Australians.
The incidence rates are rising significantly in the over 60 age groups.
A man living to age 85 has a 1/14 lifetime risk, and a woman living to age 85 has a 1/22 risk of developing a melanoma in their lifetime 1. Most of this risk occurs after the age of 60, as demonstrated by this graph:
Cumulative lifetime risk of invasive melanoma in Victoria by age and sex1
(These figures are taken for the whole population, not adjusted for those of ethnic backgrounds with smaller risks.)
Are Victorians at Risk of Melanoma?
Figures available from the Australian Cancer Atlas2 tell an interesting story about the distribution of melanoma diagnoses and death rates in Australia.
The incidence rates in South East Queensland and the Northern NSW coast are the highest in the world at rates around 70/100,000 in this region.
By comparison, the incidence rates in Victoria are around the Australian average of 40-50/100,000.
What is surprising is that the death rates in Victoria for skin cancer (melanoma) are about average for Australia at 6/100,000, while the death rates in South East Queensland are around 20-25% lower than the Australian average.
The likely explanation for this discrepancy is that people living in South East Queensland are more “skin aware” so that they report greater numbers of suspicious skin lesions and have more regular skin checks. This then results in melanomas being detected at an earlier stage, when they can be cured by removal. It would follow that dangerous skin cancers such as Melanoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma are being detected at an earlier stage in Queensland and treated before they can cause harm.
So those men and women older than 60, but especially men, in Victoria would benefit from becoming more “skin aware”.
Tips to become more ‘skin aware’ and help reduce skin cancer (melanoma):
Check your own skin or have someone at home check your skin. Use the S.C.A.N. method3:
A spot which is sore (scaly, itchy, bleeding, tender) and doesn’t heal within 6 weeks.
Changing in size, shape, colour or texture.
Looks different, feels different, or stands out when compared to your other spots and moles.
Has appeared on your skin recently. Any new moles or spots should be checked, especially if you are over 40.
Having at least an annual skin check and encouraging your partner, older family members or work colleagues to do the same.
If you are under 40, arrange a one – off skin check and discuss your risk profile with your doctor. The main strategy to find melanoma early if you are under 40 is to check your own skin twice a year or have someone at home do that check for you.
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