Queensland has at least double the rates of the world’s deadliest skin cancer on record – yet much of the state are unaware the rare cancer even exists.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a highly aggressive form of skin cancer, with 60 per cent of patients dying within five years of diagnosis, compared to just 7 per cent of melanoma patients.
New research from Cancer Council Queensland, the University of Queensland and the Western Australia Institute of Medical Research has suggested ultraviolet radiation plays an important role in the development of Merkel cell carcinoma, contributing to Queensland’s record rates.
The findings will be presented at The Global Controversies and Advances in Skin Cancer Conference, hosted by Cancer Council Queensland in Brisbane today.
Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said the five-year relative survival rate for Merkel cell carcinoma was just 41 per cent, compared to 93 per cent for melanoma.
“340 cases of Merkel cell carcinoma were diagnosed in Queensland from 2006 to 2010,” Ms Clift said.
“Consistent with global trends, Merkel cell carcinoma is more common in males than females in Queensland.
“As with most cancers, the best chance of survival is early diagnosis. This is particularly important for Merkel cell carcinoma as these tumours tend to grow rapidly.
“Our study supported the hypothesis that exposure to UV radiation was a central factor behind Queensland’s record rates of Merkel cell carcinoma.
“The development of public health campaigns to educate people about this rare yet lethal skin cancer is essential.
“The research also highlights the need for the development of clinical practice guidelines that will aid in the diagnosis and management of Merkel cell carcinoma.
“Merkel cell carcinomas can be difficult to identify, and are sometimes confused with benign skin cancers.
“It is therefore imperative that Queenslanders get to know their own skin – if they notice a new spot or lesion, or a spot or lesion change in shape, colour or size – they should visit their GP immediately.
“We hope to see better outcomes for Merkel cell carcinoma patients in Queensland in future as a result of this research.”