|Skin cancer is an extremely common disorder, with over 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers diagnosed in two million Americans annually. But while nonmelanoma cancers present their own risks, the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, is far rarer. Unfortunately, a new study suggests that workers in a certain profession might be more susceptible to developing melanoma: firefighters, particularly those who work in Australia.Monash University in Melbourne, in conjunction with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC), recently conducted an analysis on the cancer rates and causes of death among Australian firefighters. Over the course of three years, the research team studied 232,781 firefighters, comparing their information to data from the general population.
While previous studies around the world have found that people who choose this career have elevated incidences of a variety of cancers, the report found that firefighters in Australia have an increased risk of developing both melanoma and prostate cancer. Moreover, firefighters who had worked in the field for over 20 years were especially prone to this higher risk level. Due to smaller population sizes, the researchers are awaiting further data on female firefighters and volunteers who have been exposed to multiple fires.
In response to their findings, the research team has recommended that people involved in this profession take advantage of early detection measures for both prostate and skin cancers, as well as limit their sun exposure to reduce their chances of developing melanoma. The researchers also pointed out that as a population, firefighters seem to be healthier than most Australians.
However, even those who may be susceptible to an increased risk of melanoma may soon have reason to celebrate: an Australian oncologist recently predicted that a cure for melanoma may be “in our sights.”
At a meeting of the Society for Melanoma Research International Congress in Zurich, Dr. Grant McArthur closed the conference by reporting that the research that had been presented had left him feeling “upbeat” about the chances of discovering a cure for a condition that is usually considered incurable.
McArthur, a consultant medical oncologist at the University of Melbourne and director of skin and melanoma services at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, defended his claim by recapping the developments that have occurred in melanoma treatments since 1975. Beginning with chemotherapeutic dacarbazine and ending with interleukin-2, he explained that one year survival rates had increased from 33% to 46% as new treatments had been discovered. According to McArthur, 2014 had been an especially prodigious year for melanoma treatments due to a number of MEK and immune checkpoint inhibitors, which have increased one year survival rates to 80% in some cases. Because of this, he recommended that doctors begin focusing on long-term survival to further assist and potentially cure the disease.
“I think that we have cure in our sights for this disease, which has long been considered incurable,” he said.
For the sake of the millions of people around the world who have skin cancer, including a number of Australian firefighters, let’s hope he’s right.