Warning on new killer skin cancer: Merkel cell carcinoma

THE world's deadliest skin cancer has taken a grip on Queensland, yet many people have never heard of it.

Merkel cell carcinoma is a highly aggressive form of skin cancer, with 60% of patients dying within five years of diagnosis.

That compares to just 7% of melanoma patients.

Queensland has at least double the world rate of the rare cancer.

New research from Cancer Council Queensland, the University of Queensland and the Western Australia Institute of Medical Research suggests ultra-violet radiation plays an important role in the development of Merkel cell carcinoma, contributing to Queensland's record rates.

The findings have been presented at The Global Controversies and Advances in Skin Cancer Conference, hosted by Cancer Council Queensland, in Brisbane.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said the five-year relative survival rate for Merkel cell carcinoma was just 41%, compared to 93% for melanoma.

"A total of 340 cases of Merkel cell carcinoma were diagnosed in Queensland from 2006 to 2010," Ms Clift said.

"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."

It was essential health experts developed public health campaigns to educate people about the cancer, she said.

"Merkel cell carcinomas can be difficult to identify, and are sometimes confused with benign skin cancers," she said.

"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."

Topics:  cancer health warning skin cancer

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