Focusing on families to reduce skin cancer

25 May 2023

University of Queensland researchers have established Australia’s first Familial Melanoma Clinic at the Princess Alexandra Hospital to improve health outcomes for families with a history of melanoma.

The one-stop-clinic provides a comprehensive approach to melanoma management and prevention.

Dr Aideen McInerney-Leo, Senior Research Fellow at UQ’s Frazer Institute, said doctors use total body Vectra 3D imaging, dermascopic imaging of suspicious lesions and genetic testing to proactively care for patients and their families.

“Patients with a personal and/or family history of melanoma will undergo genetic testing to help doctors better understand their individual genetic risks.

“They will then participate in 3D total body imaging at each visit to identify any new or potentially harmful lesions.

“The machine’s computer program is also capable of highlighting lesions that may have changed since the previous scan,” said Dr Aideen McInerney-Leo.

The clinic will target families where three or more members have had a melanoma diagnosis.

It will also focus on individuals diagnosed with multiple melanomas, particularly when the first melanoma is diagnosed before the age of 40 years.

Dr McInerney-Leo said previous studies show that people who have had genetic testing for melanoma undergo screening more often which improves their long-term prognosis.

“We know that genetic testing improves screening and sun protective behaviours in patients.

“It also leads to better patient understanding of melanoma risks for themselves and their families,” she said.

“However, although melanoma patients receive regular skin surveillance, the screening which is offered to their family members varies.

“When a melanoma patient is found to carry a mutation which caused their condition, we will provide genetic testing and 3D Total Body Imaging to their first-degree relatives to assess their risks and provide screening recommendations.

“This will increase the likelihood that melanoma is detected much earlier, which will make a significant difference to patients and their families.

“We often hear about five-year survival rates for melanoma patients, but with our complete risk assessment model we hope to see a 10-year survival rate appearing on the horizon soon.”