Early Melanoma Detection Saves Lives!

Melanoma is lethal

Melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers.  It has the potential to spread into the body and appear in the lymph nodes, liver, brain, bones, lungs and other parts of the body.  The chance of cure depends entirely on the stage at which the melanoma is diagnosed.  
  • Patients with melanomas that are diagnosed in the earliest stages before they have grown down into the skin have a survival rate of 100%.
  • Patients with melanomas less than 1mm thick at diagnosis have a survival rate of over 95%.
  • Patients with melanomas over 4mm thick at diagnosis have a survival rate of less than 50%.
The melanoma on the right was over 4mm deep at diagnosis.  The patient subsequently died.

Melanoma is Common

Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world.  About one in 15 Australian men will develop melanoma and about one in 24 Australian women will develop melanoma.  In 2008 there were 1430 deaths in Australia from melanoma.

Melanoma is the most common cancer in people aged 15 - 44 years.

The situation is even worse on the Central Coast of NSW.  The incidence of melanoma on the Central Coast is significantly higher than the NSW average for both men and women.  Per capita, melanoma is about 25% more common on the Central Coast.

Early Detection is Crucial

The single most important function of a Skin Cancer Clinic is to diagnose melanoma at its earliest stage.  This can save lives.  Many melanomas are diagnosed quite easily and have typical characteristics.  However, the diagnosis of early melanoma can be extremely challenging.  Increasingly this is becoming a specialised area and there is now overwhelming evidence that doctors trained in a technique known as dermoscopy are able to diagnose melanoma at an earlier stage.

Dermoscopy involves using an instrument known as a dermatoscope, often in combination with a liquid such as alcohol, to visualise the structures beneath the skin.  Apart from improving melanoma diagnosis it also improves the ability to confidently diagnose non malignant skin lesions and therefore reduces the number of unnecessary excisions.

Even with all the knowledge and skill necessary, melanomas will be missed if they are not looked for.  A proper skin examination requires a thorough inspection of all areas of the skin with a patient undressed to their underwear.  This is generally not something that can be done in 10 minutes or less, especially for somebody that has a lot of moles or a history of skin cancer.  More is missed by not looking than not knowing!

Not all Melanomas Play Fair!

Unfortunately, melanomas don't read medical text books!  In other words, although there are a variety of features that will classify a mole as being cancerous, sometimes these features are not visible, even with dermoscopy.  This is particularly the case for very early melanomas.  There are two other techniques that can be utilised to assist in the diagnosis of early melanoma.
  • High resolution mole monitoring.  If a mole is new or growing it has a higher chance of being malignant.  Monitoring involves photographing an individual mole and rephotographing it 3 months later.  If the mole changes it is usually removed (even if it still doesn't exhibit features of melanoma).  The melanoma below was detected by identifying change on short term monitoring. Click on images to enlarge.
Photograph of mole selected for monitoring.Mole 3 months later with changes circled. This was an early melanoma.

  • Total Body Photography.  The main limitation of monitoring is that it only allows follow up of a limited number of moles that have been classified as potentially suspicious.  If a mole that is an early melanoma is not monitored the chance for early detection will be lost.  Total Body Photography involves taking a series of studio quality photographs of the entire skin surface.  These images can be used by the Skin Cancer Clinic or the patient to look for new or changing moles.  Most experts agree that this is the best early detection strategy for patients at high risk of melanoma.  For more information, click here.

Enquiries & Appointments Phone: (02) 4384 6191 


Skin Integrity is based in Terrigal on the Central Coast of NSW.  Skin Integrity services clients from Terrigal, Wamberal, Erina, Gosford, Woy Woy, Umina, Bateau Bay, The Entrance, Wyong, Tuggerah, Kanwal and other areas of the Central Coast.