Method to rate risk of melanoma

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 07:08 26/01/2014

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Doctors may soon be able to tell patients their risk of getting melanoma within five years thanks to a calculator being developed by a university researcher.

New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of melanoma skin cancer in the world - and the rates are increasing.

For the past 20 years there has been a focus on prevention methods but these needed to be accompanied by an accurate method of predicting melanoma risk, University of Otago senior research fellow Mary-Jane Sneyd said. Instead of skincare screening, it was better to individually assess people against a calculated risk model, she said.

Her model calculates an individual's chance of developing melanoma in the next five years.

"An individual could come into a doctor's surgery, the factors they have could be plugged in, and it would be determined what percentage chance they would have of developing melanoma within the next five years."

It took into account other factors, such as gender.

For women, things like skin colour, the number of large moles, having a relative with large moles and a personal history of non-melanoma skin cancer.

For men, factors include whether they were involved in indoor/outdoor work and whether they were born in New Zealand or overseas. Where men grew up often had a massive bearing on the amount of sun exposure they had as a child.

Initial tests showed her model had performed better than similar international ones. She had received partial funding to complete a wider study but said she had already garnered a lot of interest from both GPs and members of the public.

"Hopefully [with the calculator] melanomas would be found earlier and thinner and improve a person's chance of survival. It's the way medicine is going with individualisation rather than a blanket approach."

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