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New tool predicts melanoma risk

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MDMarch 12, 2018

Queensland researchers have come up with a “highly accurate” melanoma detection online tool that can help diagnose the condition within 90 seconds. The test can predict if a person would get the infection within the next three and a half years.

The team of researchers from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute conducted one of the world’s largest skin cancer or melanoma studies and developed this diagnostic test that is applicable for people aged between 40 and 70 years. The study report on the tool was published this week in the latest issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Professor David Whiteman and his colleagues looked at nearly 45,000 melanoma patients over eight years to develop this test. He calls it thus a “robust instrument” for this cancer detection. He adds that the test has been shown to be highly accurate. He explained that the tool takes into account seven items – age, gender, hair colour, ability of the skin to get tanned, presence and number of moles over the skin at the age of 21, previous treatment for skin lesions and sunscreen use. The tools is “self-explanatory and easy to use,” he said. He said that the questions are easy to answer and no background knowledge is required to operate the diagnostic tool.

Once the online app has assessed the basic points, it categorizes the patient into one of five different types including, “very much below average, below average, average, above average, and very much above average.” The high risk individuals need regular screening said Whiteman. He explained that the tool finds high risk even in individuals who do not consider themselves to be at a high risk. After taking the test the tool would advice those at higher risk to visit their doctors.

According to researchers, this tool would enhance public awareness and also warn individuals at higher risk to get checked regularly by their doctors. He adds however that those at lower risk should not get complacent. He explained that these low risk individuals were at lower risk compared to other average Australians, and not completely risk free so to speak.

Skin cancer or melanoma ranks third among all cancers in Australia and around 14,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. It kills around five individuals daily. Around one in 17 Australians are diagnosed with melanoma before they turn 85. It remains one of the commonest cancers for Australians under 40 years.

According to Dr. Whiteman, this test provided better accuracy for those over 40 years. For those below, it may not be as accurate but may be sufficient to provide warnings. He said that diagnosed early, melanoma treatment has a good prognosis and this is what this tool aims for. For example if detected early, the five year survival rate with melanoma is 98 percent and opposed to 90 percent when diagnosed later. If nothing, this online app would raise awareness regarding melanoma, say experts, and that would be beneficial.

Reference: https://publications.qimrberghofer.edu.au/Custom/QSkinMelanomaRisk

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