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Are All Melanomas Deadly? - The Latest Research

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In Australia, we are at a higher risk of skin cancer compared to other countries. While both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are serious conditions that require medical care, melanoma remains the most dangerous and aggressive form of skin cancer, with over 1,000 Australians dying from the disease each year.

The headline above seems to fly in the face of these facts. Still, medicine is a constantly evolving field where treatment options are continuously honed, and re-evaluated, with new breakthroughs being made all of the time.

What the New research on Melanoma Says...

Melanomas are treated aggressively because when they are deadly, they work fast. However, new research from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute shows that some patients are being overdiagnosed when it comes to the severity of their melanoma.

The latest studies show that not all melanomas will be fatal and that retrospectively, less aggressive forms of treatment could have been taken. Research shows that potentially up to a third of melanomas diagnosed would never have caused a serious problem to the patient.

For yet unknown reasons, they look like cancers in appearance, but the skin cells don't spread the way cancer typically does. While this sounds promising, keep in mind that this still means most melanomas are at high risk of spreading.

To be clear, lead researcher Professor David Whiteman and his team stress this is not the same as a misdiagnosis - doctors correctly identify melanomas. The issue is it is impossible at the moment to tell whether a melanoma will be malignant or how dangerous it will be.

Because we cannot yet distinguish between a melanoma that will remain dormant and one which will run rampant, for the safety of the patient, all melanomas need to be treated early as though they are deadly. When melanoma occurs, the risk is simply too great to hope cancer won't spread.

How does this help with cancer treatment?

It's important to note that many studies are still needed before we can reliably determine why certain melanomas become dangerous while others remain relatively dormant. Knowing that not all melanomas are equally aggressive, shows there is still a lot Creates more accurate means of screening, and allows skin exams to provide better information for patients. It'll also give doctors more options

When it comes to skin cancer, it's well documented that early detection will greatly improve your chances of treatment. Dr Whiteman and his team still strongly endorse current medical guidelines regarding skin cancer prevention and treatment.

5 Warning signs of Melanoma

Being familiar with your skin is the first step in the early detection of skin cancers. Most melanomas will show one of all of the following signs. However, if you have new moles, a suspicious spot

1. Asymmetry

Suspicious spots or moles will lack symmetry or sometimes, any specific shape at all.

2. Border

Healthy moles have consistent, clearly defined edges. Uneven borders that blur, are raised, or are abnormal in any way, it could be a sign something is amiss.

3. Colour

Moles tend to be light to dark brown and consistent in shade. Look out for differing shades of colour, or unusual colours like black, blue, white or red.

4. Diameter

Most moles are 1/4 of an inch or less in diameter. If you have an existing mole larger than this, have it looked at to make sure it's nothing more serious.

5. Evolving

Changes to existing moles or new spots which continue to change are always something you should check. This can happen rapidly.

Anyone has the potential to develop melanoma, but statistically, you're at higher risk of developing skin cancer if you:

  • Have fair skin
  • Work outdoors
  • Are frequently exposed to the sun
  • Experienced high UV radiation from tanning
  • Don't use sun protection
  • Have a family history of the disease
  • Have a weak or compromised immune system

Melanoma can appear at any age

No matter what age you are, Melanoma can appear when you least expect it. Watch Ella describe her experience of being diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer a week after her 21st birthday.

Book yourself a skin examination

While some of the findings are promising, we are still not at the stage where we confidently tell which melanomas are deadly and which aren't. Even when we can, it'll still be something that needs to be diagnosed by a qualified professional.

Having your skin checked can provide peace of mind if your unusual moles turn out to be nothing but can also catch skin cancer at an early stage. Not all skin cancer shows obvious symptoms to the untrained eye, so a specialist doctor needs to check all moles on your body. When detected early, skin cancers are easier to treat.

Our skin check clinics are run by highly trained medical professionals who are solely dedicated to detecting and treating skin cancer. We provide a range of services under one roof, including skin checks, pathology, skin biopsy and treatment.  

If you've found something concerning during a self-check or are due for a screening, Sun Doctors can catch skin cancer in its early stage. We offer a variety of treatments if necessary and employ the latest technology and research to provide you with the best care. You can book your next appointment online or phone 13 SKIN (13 75 46).

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