Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in Australia, affecting 1in 14 men and 1 in 23 women. Survival from melanoma is very good when detected early, and poorer when the disease has spread to lymph nodes or further afield.
Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates in the world due to a high proportion of people of Anglo-Celtic heritage and the regular exposure to intense sunlight that we experience. Sunbed and tanning bed exposure also increases the risk of melanoma, especially when it occurs before the age of 35 years. Other people at higher risk may have had a previous melanoma, a family member with melanoma, fair skin with blue eyes and blonde or red hair, or multiple (more than a hundred) moles on their body.
Self examination for changing moles (also called naevi) is useful and it is a good idea to ask your partner or a family member to look at the difficult places like the scalp, the back, between the toes and under the feet. Skin lesions may be worrying and need attention if they are changing, becoming lumpy or ulcerated (like a sore), or have irregularity in shape, multiple colours or asymmetry. A thorough skin check with a dermatologist or a general practitioner experienced in examining skin lesions is a good idea -your own general practitioner is the first point of call to guide you with this.
If a skin spot is thought to be suspicious, a biopsy (sample) will usually be performed and sent to the laboratory as the first test. Blood tests, Xrays or scans are only used later if required.
If your spot is diagnosed as a melanoma, you will usually be referred to a specialist like Dr Woods to plan your further care. You will need an initial consultation with Dr Woods to assess your specific situation and further treatment will be tailored to you.
Dr Woods is one of the key surgeons in the state melanoma team. He is well suited to provide surgical management to patients with this disease. This may include simple surgical excisions or cases requiring more complex reconstruction. He is equally competent in surgical removal of involved lymph nodes when the tumour has progressed to this stage (including the use of sentinel lymph node biopsy as an assessment tool). Dr Woods also participates in multi disciplinary care and can facilitate access to experts in radiotherapy and immunotherapy treatments when required.