Melanomas are increasing rapidly and older men in rural and regional Australia are most at risk

Written by Javed Iqbal

John Seccombe had regular skin checks and even had small cancers removed from his face, but nothing prepared him for the moment when the right side of his face went numb.

He was a fair-skinned boy who grew up on a farm.

Later in life he managed a cattle station and feedlot at Gurly Station, south of Moree in north-west New South Wales, before becoming chairman of the Casino Food Co-op, the largest meat company in the country.

He was aware of the danger of skin cancer, regularly went to the dermatologist and had a squamous cell carcinoma removed in his 30s.

But the disease returned, and this time it was a “spanning” cancer that was making its way into his brain stem and crushing a facial nerve.

According to his doctors, it was a death sentence.

“I had to undergo radiation for two years, at the end of it it was still growing and they gave me 12 months to live and said ‘go home and hug your children’,” Mr Seccombe said.

Farmer standing in a paddock with soil in the background
The death rate from skin cancer for farmers over 65 is twice that of other Australians.(Supplied: John Seccombe)

It was 22 years ago.

Sir. Seccombe was saved by a radical experimental operation involving three operations on his face.

“I had to have three lots of craniotomies, where they come into your face through the base of the skull,” he said.

“They removed as much damaged tissue as they could but it left my right eye in a precarious position so I had to have another, removed my eye and I pretty much lost the right side of my face.”

Check your skin

Pictures of different melanomas
Melanomas can be extremely serious, but there are ways to identify them.(Provided by: Melanomapatientforeningen)

Sir. Seccombe now lives on a farm on the north coast of New South Wales and is chairman of Melanoma Patients Australia, a charity that advocates and supports people diagnosed with melanoma.

He is encourages men in regional and rural areas to check their own skin.

This is because the statistics in those parts of Australia, often far from the beach, are shocking.

The death rate of farmers over 65 from skin cancer is more than twice that of other Australians, while the overall disease burden in remote Australia is 1.4 times that of major cities.

And it is expected to get worse.

About 8,000 Australians in regional areas were diagnosed with melanoma last year, and this is expected to rise to over 11,000 annually by 2030.

That’s because the population is getting older and men are twice as likely to die from melanoma as women due to complacency about sun safety, according to the Cancer Council.

Early detection is critical.

About the author

Javed Iqbal

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