The skin cancer treatment revolution

Australians have been slip, slop, slapping for decades now to minimise the risk of contracting skin cancer. Walk past any primary school at lunchtime and you’ll struggle to find a hatless child among the playground throng.

This is, of course, a very good thing, but skin cancer remains a huge problem in Australia. About two out of three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before the age of 70.

For those of us over 50, this is hardly a surprising revelation. Most of us were blissfully unaware of the damage long hours in the summer sun was doing. Phrases such as ‘bronzed Aussie’ and ‘healthy tan’ were seen as positive.

We know better now, but we cannot go back in time. For us, monitoring, early diagnosis and prompt treatment are the keys to prevention and recovery.

Another key is ongoing research into skin cancer treatments and prevention. News of a skin cancer vaccine, therefore, is very exciting. Just as exciting is news of an immunotherapy breakthrough delivered by 2024 Australian of the Year Professor Georgina Long. 

Skin cancer breakthroughs have been a (Georgina) Long time coming

Prof. Long’s immunotherapy research has been presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago. The research was completed in conjunction with her colleagues at Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and The Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI). It has also been published in the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine.

The research entailed the recruitment of 423 participants with melanomas, a third of whom were Australian. Divided into two virtually equal groups, 212 were given what’s known as neoadjuvant treatment, and the other 211 adjuvant treatment. Neoadjuvant simply means pre-surgery and adjuvant means post-surgery.

The results of the trial revealed a stark difference. Neoadjuvant immunotherapy patients had an 83.7 per cent rate of 12-month event-free survival (EFS). The adjuvant patients had an EFS rate of only 57.2 per cent.

Prof. Long said the findings had the power to transform cancer treatment across the world, and not only skin cancer. “The trial results are transformative for not only the treatment of melanoma, but they set the stage and benchmark for other cancers,” she said.

Vaccine breakthrough

The research being done by Prof. Long and her colleagues continues on several fronts. And one of those involves the use of mRNA vaccines. At the same ASCO annual meeting, findings from a trial of a unique vaccine known as mRNA-4157 were presented. 

Working in the same way as COVID mRNAs do, mRNA-4157 was given to a selection of patients post-surgery. The injections were delivered in combination with post-surgery immunotherapy and the results were extremely encouraging.

Overall, 2.5 years after starting the trial, 74.8 per cent of patients treated with immunotherapy combined with mRNA-4157 remained cancer free. This compared to 55.6 per cent of those treated with immunotherapy alone.

As promising as the skin cancer vaccine results are, it’s important to note this was a phase 2 clinical trial. The trial is yet to be peer reviewed. In contrast the immunotherapy trial was a phase 3 one. 

This does not mean the vaccine trials are in any way invalid. Rather, the immunotherapy trials are further along the path towards approval by relevant authorities such as Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. 

While both trials have delivered good news, neither treatment is yet a wider world reality. That means vigilance remains very important. Minimising UV exposure is vital, and monitoring changes in skin conditions continues to be crucial.

Have you been diagnosed with skin cancer? What was your treatment experience? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Cancer rates in Australia are the world’s worst

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. Huge studies are showing that the downside of all this sun avoidance is cardio-vascular disease. People that get regular sun live longer and their all cause mortality is greatly reduced compared to those that avoid the sun. I’ll take the risk of a bit of sun cancer thanks.

- Our Partners -


- Advertisment -
- Advertisment -