What started as a small lump under her cheek 18 months earlier had metastasized to her lungs.
Without treatment, the father of two had a 22% chance of surviving another three years.
“When it becomes stage four and they say words like terminal, that’s when you think, ‘I’m dealing with that,'” Ridgway said.
But an immunotherapy drug, Keytruda, reduced the tumors to next to nothing and Ridgway is beating the odds, racking up three and a half years cancer-free.
Now he wants to help save the lives of other Australians.
Tradie has started a campaign asking the federal government to implement a national melanoma screening program.
With an Australian dying every five hours from melanoma, families who have lost loved ones to deadly skin cancer also say such a program is overdue.
“We have bowel and breast cancer screenings, I don’t understand why something like this has not been implemented for melanomas – we are the skin cancer capital of the world,” Ridgway said.
“I believe that early detection could save many lives and save people who follow the path that I had to follow.”
Brisbane mother Tamra Betts lost her 25-year-old daughter Emma to melanoma in April 2017.
“Melanoma is a terrible cancer and the impact it has had on our family is life changing,” said Ms. Betts.
“Emma’s melanoma was only stage one when she was diagnosed. Twelve months later it went to stage three and then within a month it went to stage four, which is terminal.”
Ms Betts said that while programs already exist to educate students on sun safety, a melanoma checkup offered to school dropouts would help increase awareness and potentially form a lifelong habit of getting checked. regular.
“If there was a screening program where Year 11 and Year 12 students could get a skin exam, it would put the importance of it in their minds. So hopefully in the future they will do it every 12 months.” , said.
However, such a program should be funded through a Medicare rebate to make it affordable for families, he said.
Each year, about 15,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma and about 1,500 will die, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
It is the third most common cancer in Australia and the most common cancer in people aged 15 to 28 years.
However, both the Federal Government and the Cancer Council of Australia have so far rejected requests for a melanoma screening program, citing a lack of evidence on whether it would reduce death rates.
“The framework identifies the need for a strong evidence base on the safety and accuracy of screening tests and the efficacy of treatment. It also includes the requirement that screening programs provide more benefits than harm to the target population.”
The Cancer Council Australia issued a position statement on melanoma screening in 2014 and still holds the same view seven years later.
In 2015, a federal government investigation into skin cancer was carried out in Australia. It was concluded that a melanoma screening program would be prohibitively expensive and possibly not reduce mortality rates.
However, he noted that there had only been one Australian trial on the effectiveness of screening, which was never completed.
Queensland dermatologist and skin cancer specialist Michael Stapelberg told nine.com.au that research that found that screening programs did not reduce melanoma morbidity or mortality was now “quite out of date,” adding that further studies may be needed.
While a screening program was a good idea in theory, it could be difficult to implement due to a shortage of doctors specially trained to detect skin cancers and use the equipment necessary to diagnose melanomas, Dr. Stapelberg said.
“In Australia, there are less than 1000 dermatologists working on skin-related problems. However, most of them work in private practice, they generally have a wait time to see them and they charge too much,” he said.
In recent years, more GPs had been able to receive subspecialty training in skin cancer detection and medicine; however, not all had the necessary training to correctly detect skin cancers.
“Some GPs are excellent at detecting skin cancers because they have received proper training, but others are not,” he said.
The most important thing when it came to getting checked for skin cancer was seeing a doctor with the proper training, said Dr. Stapelberg.
People should look for a doctor accredited by the Skin Cancer College of Australasia or who has completed a master’s degree in skin cancer medicine from the University of Queensland, he said.
Ridgway said that if there weren’t enough qualified doctors to perform skin checks, then this needed to be addressed urgently.
“Given the number of melanomas that are diagnosed in Australia each year, it doesn’t make sense, how is it possible that we don’t have enough trained doctors,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]