Battling “Australia’s Cancer”: Melanoma Patients Australia CEO Victoria Beedle on the future of melanoma prevention and treatment

Every day, scores of Australians are given the news they dread: they have some form of cancer. And for more than 15,000 of them in 2022, it was a melanoma diagnosis. For Melanoma Patients Australia CEO Victoria Beedle, this is the challenge that the organisation she leads is trying to combat.


“We’ve got the highest rates of melanoma in the world alongside New Zealand,” Ms Beedle said, “and culturally we’re a society that lives, plays, has fun in the sun.”


She isn’t wrong. Melanoma is one of Australia’s leading cancers; the third most common cancer overall, behind breast and prostate cancer. While it strikes people of any age, it is the most common cancer among young Australians aged 20 to 39.


This trend is concerning to healthcare professionals, as so much has been done to encourage skin cancer prevention over the past decades. It seems that the message may not be cutting through as well as it once used to with today’s young Aussies.


While it is common for Aussies to know what melanoma is, there are doubts they truly understand the severity.


“We hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s just melanoma. You can just have that cut out’,” Ms Beedle said. “Well, we know all too well that once the melanoma progresses, it is a very serious and potentially deadly disease that can spread throughout the body.”


The Melanoma Patients Association has taken on a broad role when it comes to disease awareness, with their key responsibilities including supporting melanoma patients, survivors and their families.


The pool of survivors is a growing cohort, with advances in immunotherapy-based treatments meaning survivorship numbers continue to rise. Currently, there are 190,000 melanoma survivors in Australia, with that number is predicted to reach 348,000 by 2030.


“This is a huge number of people,” Ms Beedle remarks, “and it’s not just the individuals, it’s their whole family unit around them that need support and care during their journey with melanoma.”


“Our patients live scan to scan, so they go through an emotional rollercoaster from a scan being clear, no evidence of disease, and then depending on their schedule, they may be three month or a six-month scan and their anxiety levels just go up during that period and it gets closer to scan time and they really need that supportive care wraparound.”


“So I think making sure that we do have the support in place for those patients in the long-term is really critical.”


Ms Beedle said clinical trials for emerging melanoma treatments were front and centre of many patients’ minds.


“We have a support group with about 3,000 people in it, so people are looking internationally and globally as to what’s on the horizon,” Ms Beedle said.


While there can be some hesitancy when it comes to accessing clinical trials, melanoma patients in Australia are ready and open to participating in Ms Beedle’s experience.


“One thing we do hear from patients regularly is they’re keen to get involved in clinical trials to make sure that new and emerging treatments and technologies are going to be available for their families, for their children. I think it’s one of the most exciting areas of medicine right now in terms of advances.


“In terms of precision medicine, there’s excitement ahead. We’re certainly looking closely at some of the clinical trials happening here in Australia and around the world for future treatment, hope for our patients and their families.”


When asked about what Australia can do better to raise melanoma awareness, Ms Beedle says it is time to stop going back in time to a Slip-Slop-Slap-Seek campaign and invest in different programmes.


“I think there are some significant challenges around our prevention programs and messaging to make sure that people really are aware of the steps they need to take to protect themselves from the harsh Australian sun,” Beedle said.


I think we’re probably not very good at getting that messaging nuanced enough to the different target audiences. How do you get cut-through with people who are living in regional rural areas who perhaps don’t have access to a GP? Like one size doesn’t fit all in the messaging. So I think it has to be quite a sophisticated approach to it, and which I don’t think we really have at the moment. I think there’s much more we could do in that space.”


“Some of the programmes that are out there are, our patients are telling us this too, a little outdated potentially not targeting young people in the way they need to in terms of social media. The prevention message is really key for our young people. But the ‘What to look for?’ message is much more important in people that are older who’ve had a lifetime of UV exposure.”


“Although we’ve made great inroads with the work of Cancer Council and the Slip-Slop-Slap program, there is still lots more work to do. We are still seeing very high rates of melanoma across the country, and we need to be investing in preventative health campaigns and strategies to make sure that we are protecting people from this deadly cancer.”


When it comes to reducing rates of melanoma diagnoses, Ms Beedle argues it needs to be a team effort.


“We really do feel there’s a lot more work to do and that it’s a whole of community effort. It’s government at all levels, it’s communities, it’s our sporting infrastructure and codes that need to come on board. It’s supporting schools and families to make the right decisions and to be informed on the different ways they can act to protect their skin.”


“We’ve worked really closely with our partners at Melanoma Institute Australia and we released the State of the Nation report into melanoma, which it was a groundbreaking report and I think has really laid a pathway or a foundation out for what we need to do to improve outcomes for patients and families affected by melanoma.”


“By working together, I think it gives us a platform to really make some inroads into solving some of the challenges that we have around melanoma in Australia.”

Read our article how melanoma has affected Australian parliamentarians