Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It can spread through the whole body and is usually fatal if it does.
If detected early, the cure rate for melanoma is almost 100 per cent. Late detection, when the melanoma is more than three millimetres deep, results in only a 59 per cent survival rate.
The diagnostic accuracy of all clinicians (including specialists) is not high. Since most general practitioners (GPs) see only a handful of melanomas in their career, it is unrealistic to expect them to always diagnose correctly.
Almost three quarters of a million skin cancer removal operations are performed each year in Australia, costing over $300 million to the Federal Government, and many of these are unnecessary.
Excessive exposure to the sun is a key cause of skin cancer. Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, due to its geographical location and the fact that most of its inhabitants have fair skins and enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. People are considered more at risk if they have lots of moles, are fair skinned with blue eyes, tend to sunburn easily or have freckles.
Each year, melanoma claims the lives of over 1000 people in Australia, 7700 people in the US and 1600 people in the UK.
The rate of melanoma cases worldwide is increasing faster than any other cancer, with an annualised rate increase of six percent. Since 1973, the mortality for melanoma has increased by 50 percent.
Each year, nearly 8000 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed in Australia compared to 6000 cases in the UK. Despite this, 600 more people die from melanoma in the UK than in Australia annually.
Decades of sun awareness campaigns, such as SunSmart have helped slow the rate of skin cancer deaths in Australia and, for women, rates have even started to decline. These campaigns to promote safe sun habits mean that more Australians are detecting skin cancers early, increasing their chances of surviving the disease.