Skin cancer is Australia’s ‘national cancer’. It kills one of us every five hours, more of our young people than any other cancer, and (despite prevention campaigns and improvements in treatment) these statistics are getting worse. As well as the brutal social impacts, skin cancer is costing our health system over $400 million a year – making it Australia’s our most expensive cancer.
Over 95% of skin cancers can be successfully treated – if they’re detected early. This survival rate is far greater than any other cancer. Using treatments which are a lot more cost effective.
THE STATE OF PLAY
There has never been a coordinated national focus on skin cancer screening. Why? Because the evidence presented to the Health Department indicates the cost-per-check is too high to justify federal funding. However, much of this evidence is now decades old and the organisations conducting this research did not have access to the same technological capabilities we do today…
ABOUT THE INITIATIVE
FROM SOUTH AUSTRALIA TO THE WHOLE COUNTRY...
The world’s first pop-up skin cancer clinic that uses artificial intelligence to help detect suspicious skin lesions launched this year in Victor Harbor and plans to visit at leat five more remote / regioanl communities in the next two years. The free service, delivered by nurses, uses algorithms in conjunction with doctors’ clinical expertise to detect skin cancer, which affects two out of every three Australians during their lifetime.
Thanks to a partnership between national health charity Skin Check Champions, the University of South Australia and The Hospital Research Foundation, the new nurse-led model delivered via pop-up clinics is being piloted to improve skin checks in regional South Australia where skin cancer rates are up to 31 per cent higher than people in metropolitan areas.
UniSA Professor in Cancer Nursing, Marion Eckert, says distance is a big disadvantage when it comes to skin screening services. “Skin cancer prevention programs are under-funded and under-resourced, especially outside large cities, despite melanoma being the third most diagnosed cancer in Australia and melanoma killing four Australians every day.” Skin Check Champions CEO Scott Maggs says the world-class AI technology has performed as well as dermatologists, even outclassing them in some experiments, although control trials and more research are needed to better validate the algorithms. “Our goal is to halve the number of Aussies who die from melanoma and increase the number of skin checks in Australia by 25 per cent by running a targeted AI-supported national skin check program,” Maggs says.
The project involves training nurses to take high-quality lesion images that are triaged and conditionally diagnosed by artificial intelligence algorithms to see if they are cancerous. The results are verified by local GPs and, if required, patients are referred to dermatologists, most of whom are based in cities. Residents living in regional areas will be able to access the service via nurse-led free pop-up clinics at local community events.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, skin cancer costs the health system $400 million a year, with 66 per cent of Australians likely to get some form of skin cancer and more than 15,000 Australians (one every half hour) diagnosed with melanoma – the most aggressive form of skin cancer.
“More than 98 per cent of skin cancers can be successfully treated if they’re found early, which is why getting checked is so important,” Prof Eckert says.
Project Check Mate has been a dream of Skin Check Champions CEO Scott Maggs since losing his friend to melanoma in 2010, noting that “Ideally, this pilot proves our model to be more efficient and effective than anything else presented to the Health Department, justifying further funding and support to bring this vital service to high risk communities all around the country.”
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