Why the early detection of Melanoma will become more important than ever

On March 30th, scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer published a study on the Global Burden of Cutaneous Melanoma in 2020 and Projections to 2040.

Key Points of the study are:

  • Question: What are the global incidence and mortality patterns of cutaneous melanoma in 2020, and how are they estimated to change by 2040?
  • Findings: This epidemiological assessment of global cancer data estimated that 325 000 new melanoma cases and 57 000 deaths due to melanoma occurred in 2020, with large geographic variations in incidence across countries and world regions. If 2020 rates remain stable, the global burden from melanoma is estimated to increase to 510 000 new cases and 96 000 deaths by 2040.
  • Meaning: Melanoma remains an important public health concern globally and is characterized by high incidence in fair-skinned populations of European descent and disproportionate mortality in transitioning countries.

Bettina Ryll, MD/ PhD founded MPNE, the Melanoma Patient Network Europe, after losing her husband to Melanoma in 2012. MPNE is one of the iToBoS partners and leader of the work package for patient engagement in the project. Here she reflects on the relevance of the iToBoS project in light of the recent IARC study.

The projected increase of Melanoma is truly worrisome for a community like ours. We see daily what Melanoma does to the lives of those directly affected and those close by, like their family members and friends.

Melanoma is a cancer where survival chances dramatically change depending on the stage of the disease at diagnosis. In early stages, Melanoma is treated by surgery alone with very high chances to survive long term. Once metastatic, Melanoma used to be a death sentence- and remains so in the absence of access to novel and costly new therapies.
Effective Early Detection thereby becomes critically important to deal with the rising Melanoma incidence.
While prevention would certainly be the most desirable intervention- the best cancer is the one doesn’t get- one cannot ignore the impact of time. One of the risk factors for Melanoma are sunburns in childhood, so the Melanomas detected today were caused decades ago. The risk of Melanoma also increases with age, due to cumulative sun exposure, and thereby becomes more prevalent in ageing populations. While preventive measures- like personal protection, reduction of UV exposure during work and leisure time and in public spaces- are important, they will be insufficient when used in isolation.

Early Detection offers a therapeutic window for effective and cost-effective treatment. It is also an ideal space for future meaningful personalisation where further research will hopefully allow us to identify those patients who are most likely to progress and who would therefore benefit from treatment. This would benefit the entire patient population: those and only those at risk would receive treatment, not exposing patients to unnecessary therapy and toxicity. Those not at risk would be reassured, reducing the considerable psychological burden that Early-Stage Melanoma today entails.

Critical however in that setting is the ability to detect Melanoma as early and as reliably as possible. MPNE is therefore excited to be partner in iToBoS- we expect this project not only to deliver a real device but to further general knowledge about image analytics, machine learning and how to use crowd-sourced approaches to arrive at the best solutions for patients’.

Original Publication in JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/2790344

IARC press release. https://www.iarc.who.int/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/pr311_E.pdf