15 May 2024

Budget boost for targeted skin cancer screening 

Skin cancer

The budget served up $10.3 million to be spent over the next four years to further the push for a national program.

The Melanoma Institute Australia’s push for a national targeted melanoma screening program picked up a $10.3 million boost from the federal budget this week. 

And the national skin cancer prevention campaign also received an injection of $15 million over two years. 

The Melanoma Institute of Australia will receive the $10.3 million over four years from 2024-25 to undertake targeted research into skin cancer screening and develop a roadmap for a national, targeted skin cancer screening program. 

This is to be done in close consultation with Cancer Australia and the broader skin cancer sector, according to the budget documents. 

The institute released a position paper on skin checks for melanoma in Australia earlier this year that outlined the ongoing research required to identify high risk patients to be included in a national screening program. 

Australians of the Year and the MIA’s co-directors, Professor Georgina Long AO and Professor Richard Scolyer AO, led the development of the position statement, along with researcher and writer Kristen Perry and experts and co-authors Professor Anne Cust, Dr Solange Green, Professor Pascale Guitera, Dr Jeremy Hudson, Professor Monika Janda, Associate Professor Victoria Mar, Associate Professor Linda Martin, Professor Scott Menzies, Dr Dana Slape, Professor Peter Soyer, Dr Artiene Tatian and Professor David Whiteman. 

“Many Australians in the general population present for regular skin checks, largely to primary care (general practitioners), but also to specialised skin cancer clinics and dermatology centres, in the absence of skin symptoms such as a new or changing pigmented lesion,” they wrote. 

“However, research on the benefits and harms of having regular skin checks to screen for melanoma, in the absence of symptoms, by a health professional is limited. 

“The current evidence does not show clear … benefit from screening for melanoma in the asymptomatic general population and it is not currently recommended in Australia.” 

The authors reported there was emerging evidence that screening of the general population may lead to some harms, including overdiagnosis and overtreatment. 

Instead of screening for melanoma and other skin cancers for everyone in the general population, they recommended that efforts be directed toward early diagnosis via a national awareness campaign and a national targeted screening program. 

“Critically, there must also be a renewed focus on contemporary primary prevention campaigns,” they wrote. 

More awareness would encourage people to become familiar with their own skin and to visit a doctor as soon as they see something new or changing, while targeted screening would comprise a funded national skin checking program to screen for melanoma in the people at the highest risk of melanoma, they said. 

“This program would aim to address inequities in the current opportunistic approach to skin checks and provide clarity on the definition of a ‘high-risk individual’ for practitioners,” the authors wrote. 

“There is evidence that a structured surveillance program for people at very high risk of melanoma is more effective and less expensive than usual care, and that Australian melanoma risk assessment tools can help to distinguish people at higher and lower risk.” 

A multidisciplinary committee of national experts in skin cancer is currently working on the Melanoma Screening project to determine how risk-targeted screening should proceed. This includes consensus on what constitutes a high-risk individual and approaches to improving the accuracy of skin examination, including the role of skin imaging technologies and standardising the quality of skin checks in the context of cost-effectiveness and workforce availability.