Specialised melanoma clinics worthwhile

People at very high risk of melanoma would benefit from monitoring

Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world.

A newly published study has shown that for people at very high risk, specialised surveillance clinics would cut costs and improve health outcomes, as melanoma would be detected earlier and fewer unnecessary biopsies would be done. The study had 500 participants who were at very high risk because they had had melanoma already or had several relatives with melanoma.

The research was led by Dr Caroline Watts from the Melanoma Institute of Australia and the School of Public Health and CTC's head of health economics, Professor Rachael Morton.

The research is likely to lead to calls for new rebates in the Medicare Benefits Scheme to support access to clinics that can offer regular monitoring by total body and close-up digital imaging. For people at risk, who develop many melanomas, close monitoring would save more than $6800 per patient over 10 years. Fewer moles would be unnecessarily cut out, and early detection of melanomas would mean less extensive surgery would be required.

Current guidelines advise regular monitoring to ensure melanoma is picked up at an early, curable stage. But until this study, it had not been proven how often this should be done, or what the costs and benefits would actually be in practice.

The Melanoma Institute and its partners in the study were funded by Cancer Institute NSW to run the research. The participants in the study were seen every 6 months, their moles photographed and mapped via total body photography, and any changes over time followed up with close-up sequential digital dermoscopy.

The next step for the research team is to complete detailed estimates of potential costs and savings for the health budget.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Link to summary