More than 400,000 people will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer this year and the most deadly form of the disease, melanoma, will claim more than a thousand lives in Australia say researchers. Queensland has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world with fair-skinned people being most affected with the strong subtropical sun.
Now a team of scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research are about to commence on the largest skin cancer research study ever conducted in Australia. The study will allow doctors to predict a person’s future risk of developing skin cancer. The Institute hopes data will be collected from more than 200,000 people over a decade or longer.
Associate Professor David Whiteman from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research explains that it is not just fair skin and the sun that is responsible for the cancer. He said, “There are some genetic backgrounds that pre-dispose people to have a higher risk of skin cancer, even if their skin colours are olive or darker and we also know that for different types of skin cancer, particularly for melanoma there do appear to be important periods of time during a person's development, you know, during their adolescence and childhood when it appears that the effects of sunlight are particularly nasty and dangerous for the cells of the skin. So it’s this kind of information now that we’re trying to drill down on.”
The study will be based on surveys that ask about previous sun exposure, freckles and moles, skin type, family history and other factors. This information would be linked to Medicare records and significant factors would be unearthed and a better understanding of skin cancer is expected. Dr. Whiteman said, “While there’s a general tendency for large levels of sun exposure to contribute to melanoma and skin cancer, it's not always the case and again this is where the interplay of genetics and environment play a role… So by doing very large studies and looking at different groupings of risk factors, we can start to sort out the different pathways through which these cancers arise.”