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Rural Queenslanders least likely to seek support services to cope with melanoma diagnosis

Rural Queenslanders who have been diagnosed with melanoma are more likely to look online for information or have counselling from their doctor, than visit community peers or community groups for support.

A new study by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s Cancer and Population Studies group researcher Dr Lena von Schuckmann looked at the support seeking behaviour of patients from rural, regional and urban parts of Queensland at the time they were diagnosed with melanoma.

Dr von Schuckmann’s study, which has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, found Queenslanders who lived in rural areas, or were male, elderly or had a low level of education were less likely to use support services.

She said a greater proportion of rural patients were socioeconomically disadvantaged, as well as less likely to have had regular skin checks in the five years prior to a melanoma diagnosis.

“Of the 787 participants with localised melanomas, which haven’t spread to other parts of the body, just 37 per cent reported accessing a support service to help them at the time of diagnosis,” Dr von Schuckmann said.

“Overall, the proportion of patients who accessed at least one support service was lower in rural areas (29 per cent) than in regional (39 per cent) or urban areas (37 per cent).

“And across the state, patients most commonly sought information-based support, with 22 per cent going online, seven per cent obtaining written information and just one per cent receiving information via phone.

“Around 17 per cent of patients visited health providers, like a GP for counselling or an allied health practitioner to treat physical symptoms, whereas 13 per cent of patients used community supports, such as their peers or a community group.”

She said fewer rural patients used support services after a melanoma diagnosis than in urban and regional settings.

“Rural patients were less likely to draw on the community around them for support or use in-community supports, particularly from their peers,” Dr von Shuckmann said.

“We don’t really know why this is. It may be reflective of cultural attitudes, or it may simply be the barrier of distance and the lack of availability of structured community support services.

“We found that women who were younger or who had a high level of education were the most likely to access support services, overall.

“People with a more serious melanoma diagnosis were also more likely to access support.”

Dr von Schuckmann said the study suggested rural communities may be disadvantaged when it comes to accessing support services due to barriers such as a lack of infrastructure development, cost pressures associated with travel and location, and generally longer travel times.

The study recruited patients from public hospital clinics in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and Townsville, as well as through the private practices of surgeons and pathology services across the state, between 2010 and 2014.

The research was carried out by researchers from QIMR Berghofer, the University of Queensland and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.