Melanoma: the immigrant experience in a sunburnt country

When Lisa, Jenny and Vikki immigrated to Australia in their younger years, they had no idea that the outdoor lifestyle they embraced would lead to a melanoma diagnosis later in life. As melanoma patients and residents of Far North Queensland, they now understand the importance of early detection, which is why they have joined the early detection melanoma clinical trial, IMAGE, at FNQH Skin Cancer Centre Cairns.

Lisa’s story

Lisa immigrated from Northern Ireland in 1974 when she was three years old. Coming from a cold and damp country, Lisa was encouraged to take advantage of the Australian sun and play outside as much as possible.

“Sunscreen was something you put on your nose when you went to the beach for the day. I didn’t cover up in the sun, and I remember being badly sunburnt a handful of times. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I became more sensible when out in the sun, but nothing like the sun safety measures I take now that I have been diagnosed with melanoma,” Lisa said.

A trip to the GP to seek help for insomnia led to Lisa’s first melanoma diagnosis when the doctor noticed a suspicious mole on Lisa’s arm. Then last year, another melanoma was found on her back during a regular skin check with Dr Vin Rajeswaran at FNQH Cairns.

“When Dr Vin invited me to participate in the IMAGE trial, I didn’t hesitate. It’s great that this trial is accessible to rural residents like me, where healthcare can be a challenge to obtain,” Lisa said.

Jenny’s story

Jenny immigrated to Australia from the Netherlands when she was nine years old and soon after visited the beach for the first time. Unfortunately, Jenny and her new friends didn’t realise how badly Jenny would burn that day, and she ended up with a painful sunburn that she still remembers today.

“I ended up with blisters and had to sleep sitting up for a week, so after that sunburn I always tried to stay out of the sun,” Jenny said.

For most of Jenny’s adult life she’s had annual skin checks, but it was a nurse assessing her for an operation who noticed the suspicious mole on her elbow and encouraged her to get it checked.

“Thankfully I was able to get an appointment with Dr Vin at FNQH Cairns quickly, and the spot was confirmed a melanoma. A huge chunk was taken out of my elbow, but at least it was caught early. Melanoma is so prevalent, especially in Far North Queensland, so I am happy to participate in the IMAGE trial as this early detection research is very important,” Jenny said.

Vikki’s story

Vikki moved ‘across the ditch’ from New Zealand’s South Island to Australia when she was 21. New Zealand has the world’s second highest melanoma rates, and cumulative sun exposure throughout childhood and adulthood can lead to melanoma.

Although Vikki had annual skin checks, it was a strange spot on her leg that prompted her to make an appointment to see Dr Vin at FNQH Cairns. While the spot on her leg concerned Vikki, it was an unusual spot on her shoulder that worried Dr Vin, and after a biopsy, was confirmed to be a melanoma. Since then, Vikki has had another melanoma removed, and has lesions on her arm and face that she is treating with a topical skin cancer cream.

“I’m so grateful that I got my skin checked when I did so that my melanomas and skin cancers could be caught and treated early. As part of the IMAGE trial, I am pleased to contribute to research aimed at improving early melanoma detection,” Vikki said.

About the IMAGE trial

The ’IMAGE’ trial is studying the effectiveness of 2D or 3D Melanoma Surveillance Photography (MSP) in high-risk melanoma patients compared to usual skin surveillance. The outcomes of the IMAGE trial will also provide the Australian Government with the high-quality evidence required to decide if MSP should be covered by Medicare. A skin cancer imaging session can cost around $450, making MSP unaffordable for many Australians.

With Queensland having the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, FNQH Cairns had no problem enrolling participants into the trial, which is being coordinated nationally by Melanoma and Skin Cancer Trials. For the trial, Dr Vin and his team are using the Vectra 3D skin cancer imaging machine, making this state-of-the-art technology available free-of-charge to the trial participants placed in the 3D imaging group.

The IMAGE trial, led by Prof Victoria Mar, is now closed for enrolment. The participants will attend annual follow-up visits for the next two years. The trial results will then be analysed, published and provided to the Australian Government.  

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