New data from Cancer Council Victoria launches melanoma appeal for World Cancer Day

Monday 4 February, 2013

Victorians whose melanoma is more than 4mm thick at the time of diagnosis have only a 50% chance of surviving five years, while all those who present with a melanoma less than 1mm thick have a 100% chance of surviving the cancer five years from diagnosis.

The data has been released on World Cancer Day to coincide with the launch of Cancer Council Victoria’s new appeal, urging Victorians to donate funds for melanoma research. Highlighting the serious impact of melanoma in Victoria, the data reinforces how important it is that people are aware of any changes on their skin, and get anything unusual checked by a GP – even a 1mm increase in the size of a spot can make the difference between life and death.

Five year survival based on thickness of melanoma at diagnosis

In 2011, 2044 new melanomas were diagnosed – making it the fifth most-commonly diagnosed cancer, according to Cancer in Victoria: Statistics and Trends 2011. Of those diagnosed, 1,161 (57%) were men and 883 (43%) were women. Additional data shows, a total of 121 Victorians had melanomas thicker than 4mm, double the number of men (81) than women (40). The data suggests that perhaps men tend to wait longer before consulting their GP about skin irregularities.

Number of Victorians diagnosed with melanomas in 2011 based on thickness

Sadly, these statistics were reflected in the number of melanoma deaths. In total, 322 Victorians lost their battle with melanoma and twice as many men succumbed to the disease (217) than women (105).

These deaths are all the more tragic, given melanoma is highly preventable – by protecting yourself during sun protection times using a combination of shade, clothing, hats, sunscreen and sunglasses.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper says programs like SunSmart have helped prevent many skin cancers and Victorians are now more aware of skin changes, the statistics are a powerful reminder of getting skin changes checked early.

“Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because of its ability to spread to other parts of the body - like the kidney, liver or brain,” said Mr Harper.

“Unfortunately, some Victorians will discover melanoma too late and their chances of survival will be halved. However, research has the potential to change this. This is why we’re urging Victorians to donate to our melanoma appeal this World Cancer Day. We hope that one day, a melanoma diagnosis – even in the later stages - won’t be a life threatening one,” he concluded.

Funds raised through the appeal will go towards research like that undertaken by Professor Jonathon Cebon. Cancer Council helped fund his study, which looks for new melanoma treatments using the patient’s own immune system. Essentially, it is a vaccine-type approach for melanoma.

For 39-year-old Christian Cousins, one of Prof. Cebon’s patients, a melanoma vaccine couldn’t come soon enough. Christian, a father of three young boys, has been battling melanoma since 1999. He has had over 10 operations - most recently, he had a melanoma near his heart removed.

Christian urged Victorians to donate to the appeal.

“If you don’t have the money, you can’t do the research. If you can’t do the research, you don’t find a cure – and that inevitably means more people are going to die,” he said.

“I want to be around to see my kids grow up. To be there for their twenty-firsts, see them get married and have children of their own. So it gives me hope that there are people out there like Professor Cebon working on a project that didn’t even exist ten years ago.”

Help save lives and keep families together by funding research like Professor Cebon’s.

To donate, visit www.cancervic.org.au/fightcancer or call 1300 65 65 85.

For more information or interview requests:

Ash Anand on (03) 9635 5326, 0450 739 044 or Ash.anand@cancervic.org.au

Sophie Jackson on (03) 9635 5236, 0400 547 448 or Sophie.jackson@cancervic.org.au

Updated: 04 Feb, 2013