The deadly cancer trend that sees an Australian die every six hours

In Australia, one person is diagnosed with melanoma every thirty minutes, but at just 25 years old, Samantha Marshall was shocked to be one of them.

Ms Marshall, from Sydney's inner-west, was diagnosed with stage three skin cancer in February this year after finding a lump on her groin.

Her diagnosis was "unconventional" she told Yahoo News Australia. At just 17, she had a cancerous mole removed but little did she know cancer continued developing in her body, presenting itself nine years later.

"I was always aware of skin cancer but I thought cancer, in general, was for older people," the now 26-year-old said. "When I was 17 I probably didn’t really think of my skin very much. But I’m pale and I always stayed out of the sun," she added.

Samantha Marshall, 25, was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma earlier this year. Source: Supplied.
Samantha Marshall, 25, was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma earlier this year. Source: Supplied.

Ms Marshall said getting a mole removed was "a wake-up call" and a "sign to look after her skin," even though she thought she always had. "Unfortunately, it was just unlucky that I ended up with more advanced melanoma," she said.

Melanoma is the most common cancer in young people

The 26-year-old said she was "shocked" by how many people in the doctor's waiting room "looked my age", but melanoma is the most common cancer for 20-39-year-olds, the Melanoma Institute of Australia's CEO Matthew Browne told Yahoo News — and it starts with overexposure to UV.

"We need to ensure the younger demographic understands the seriousness of melanoma, the seriousness of a disease that can ultimately kill you," he said.

Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world, according to the institute, and one person dies every six hours. Mr Browne says it's "very simple" to avoid getting skin cancer and in most cases it's preventable "through the sun-safe methods of wearing a broad-rim hat, sunscreen, protective clothing, shade and sunglasses".

The Melanoma Institute of Australia has partnered with TikTok to help educate young Australians about the dangers of tanning which Mr Browne says is often "glamorised". Melanoma claims more lives than the national road toll, he pointed out, and stressed "there is no safe way of sun tanning."

The popular video sharing app is now vowing to thwart videos that dangerously promote tanning as well as trends like 'sunburn challenges'.

Gina Savage in hospital bed with advanced melanoma.
Gina Savage, 27, has advanced melanoma and has been a vocal advocate against the glamorisation of tanning. Source: AAP

Tanning is a kick in the guts,' says young melanoma patient

Brisbane woman Gina Savage learned the dangers of tanning the hard way and said the glamorisation of tanning on social media is a "kick in the guts". The 27-year-old was diagnosed with melanoma seven years ago and it has since spread to other parts of her body.

Since her initial diagnosis, the Brisbane woman has been through four rounds of radiation treatment and has been on five systemic drugs, which sadly failed. The cancer has slowly made its way around her body, wreaking havoc, she said.

"For me, and many, many other people in my position, up to 50 per cent of advanced melanoma patients don't respond to current available treatments," she told AAP. She said the narrative that tanning is chic needs to be flipped on its head.

TikTok launches campaign against tanning

The social media campaign, 'Tanning. That's cooked' is "inviting TikTok creators to use humour and throw shade at tanning in their own authentic way," TikTok general manager Lee Hunter said. For Brad Canning, a TikTok creator with over 500,00 followers, sharing the message is "important" after losing his mum to stage four melanoma.

"It was extremely hard growing up with a sick mum, who was also a single mum trying to raise the kids, and seeing the effects melanoma had on her as well as the rest of my family," he said. "We can still enjoy an Aussie summer but we need to do it in a healthier way. After seeing my mum suffer throughout my entire childhood, I have definitely grown up being more sun smart."

Samantha Marshall on the mend

Ms Marshall is six months cancer-free thanks to a round of immunotherapy drugs— which help the body’s own immune cells fight the disease. Her sun-safety habits have also changed. She welcomes TikTok's push to ban tanning culture, and said seeing people deliberately destroying their skin is "really sad and quite scary".

"I want to reach over grab them on the shoulders and say stop it," she said. "It's like being a non-smoker with lung cancer watching someone who smokes — it’s almost offensive," she added.

Throughout summer, anyone who searches a hashtag relating to summer sun or tanning will see the 'Tanning. That's Cooked.' banner, and will be provided with information that outlines the dangers of tanning, with links to the Melanoma Institute.

TikTok creator Brad Canning with his mum.
TikTok creator Brad Canning lost his mum to melanoma and has praised the platform's new anti-tanning campaign. Source: Supplied

Spotting melanoma with ABCDE

Mr Browne said there are people who still see tanning as "healthy". But the reality is "tanning is the body’s own way of trying to protect itself," he said. "It's the skin cells in trauma."

He said knowing what to look for is key to detecting skin cancer early — and the ABCDE approach will help with that.

A = Asymmetry. If the mole is not symmetrical that’s a sign something is moving or shifting.

B = Border. If it has a jagged edge, not a round border, that’s potentially a sign.

C = Colour. Melanoma can vary in colour but deep blues and blacks, or a different coloured mole could be worrying.

D = Diameter. Markings that are about 6mm or more should be checked.

E = Evolving. Look for any changes in moles or markings and if things are changing, particularly if changing rapidly, always get that checked out.

"If melanoma is detected early, you tend to have a very good prognosis," he added. "Know the skin you’re in and check regularly."

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