Skin Deep: understanding melanoma



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Dr Tiffen and Dr Tong shared practical knowledge about melanoma of the skin and provided insights into how medical research is improving outcomes for melanoma patients.

Preventing and protecting yourself and your loved ones from melanoma should be a life-long commitment, but you cannot do it alone. This is why the Centenary Institute wants to equip you with the necessary facts to help you.

Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world1.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the skin cells called melanocytes and usually occurs on the parts of the body that have been overexposed to the sun. Rare melanomas can occur inside the eye (ocular melanoma) or in parts of the skin or body that have never been exposed to the sun such as the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet or under the nails.

One Australian is diagnosed every 30 minutes2 and every 6 hours, 1 Australian will die from Melanoma3!


Your Expert Presenters and Facilitator

  • Head, Centenary Institute Centre for Cancer Innovations

    Dr Jessamy Tiffen is the Head of the Centre for Cancer Innovations and leads the Epigenetics of Melanoma Laboratory at the Centenary Institute. She is an expert in the study of epigenetic regulation in cancer.

    Dr Tiffen completed her PhD at the University of Sydney in Cancer genetics. From there she underwent postdoctoral training at the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK before returning to Australia where she pursued her interest in melanoma with Professor Peter Hersey.

    She is a member of the American Association of Cancer Research and the Society for Melanoma Research and holds a dual affiliation as an Honorary Senior Research Fellow within the University of Sydney.

  • Dermatologist and DermScreen Founder & CEO

    Dr Philip Tong is a Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists after completing his dermatology specialist training in NSW as the inaugural Dean’s Fellow in Dermatology, a joint initiative with The University of Sydney. He underwent world class-research and dermatology training in Sydney and completed his PhD in advanced biomedical imaging and skin immunology at Centenary Institute during this time. Prior to obtaining his specialist qualifications, he also received training in dermatology departments in Perth, Melbourne as well as in London.

    He is a Visiting Medical Office at St Vincent’s Hospital and completed his training and PhD in Sydney. He has leadership roles as the Deputy Director of Research, at The Skin Hospital, Sydney as well as co-chair for All About Acne. His early research focus was in melanoma, however he now focuses his energy in utilising technology in the early detection of skin cancer. He does this via supporting telehealth opportunities particularly in rural and remote Australia through a virtual care platform called DermScreen.

  • Executive Director, Centenary Institute

    Professor Marc Pellegrini is an infectious diseases physician, host-pathogen molecular biologist, and Executive Director at the Centenary Institute. An internationally renowned research scientist, Professor Pellegrini has over 20 years of experience working on chronic infections that include HIV, hepatitis B and tuberculosis.

    Bridging the gap between basic science and translation into the clinic his work has resulted in 16 clinical trials. Professor Pellegrini’s research is focused on the development of novel therapeutics and interventions for the management of infectious diseases that contribute significantly to global morbidity and mortality.

    He was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences in 2018.

Melanoma: The facts 

  • Melanoma of the skin is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australians aged 20 – 39 (3).
  • In 2023, Melanoma was the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia (3).
  • 95% of melanomas are caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun (2).
  • If caught early, 90% of melanomas can be cured by surgery (2).
  • In the last decade, the 5-year overall survival rate for advanced melanoma has increased from <10% to >50% (2).
  • The mortality rate for melanoma of the skin is expected to increase with age (4).
  • Almost 50% more males than females die from melanoma of the skin (3).
  • Around 50% of melanoma patients that initially respond to treatment suffer a recurrence within five years.

Research is making a difference

If detected early, melanoma can usually be treated. If left undetected, it can spread via the blood and lymphatic system to distant organs such as the lungs, liver and brain. In these cases, treatment becomes far more intensive – and survival rates plummet. 

At the Centenary Institute, Dr Tiffen and her team have discovered that genes on the X chromosome may be the key to the improved survival rates of females with melanoma compared to males.  

Melanoma cells can evolve rapidly and become resistant to treatment, this is known as treatment resistant melanoma.

The development of new immunotherapies and targeted treatments has provided hope for many people living with advanced melanoma. However, up to 50% of patients either do not respond to traditional interventions, or find that treatment only works for a limited time before the cancer returns.





Note: statistics updated May 2024

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