Skin cancer: Why don't we have a national screening program?

25 Mar 2020

Melanoma is our national cancer. It affects 1 in 17 Australians, and yet setting up a formal screening program like we have for breast, cervical and bowel cancer is trickier than you might think.

Last week, the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health published a research paper outlining the benefits and issues surrounding a systematic screening program.

Developed by national and international experts at a recent Melanoma Screening Summit, it concluded  a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t feasible in our current environment.

However, while there have been many positive steps forward, we need a more targeted approach focused on high risk groups.

This is because current costs of skin cancer screening are high for individuals and our community. 

If we can reduce the number of people requiring skin cancer screening, it will reduce unnecessary treatments and redirect resources to people in greater need of attention.

There are also potential drawbacks to blanket screening, like over-diagnosis (detection of cancers that would never spread and cause problems), increased health anxiety, and potentially pouring health funds into programs that are clinically ineffective.

Targeted screening might be feasible in the near future with emerging new technologies like liquid biopsies,  3D imaging with artificial intelligence assessment of all skin lesions, or selecting those with high genetic risk scores.

Authors include Prof Monika Janda and Prof Peter Soyer.