Tackle a do-it-yourself skin cancer risk assessment soon

Australia leads the world in the incidence of skin cancers. The ultra violet rays in Aussie sunshine and pale skin together can be a lethal combination.

There were almost one million cases of skin cancer in 2015. Cutaneous malignant melanoma is the most aggressive skin cancer claiming more than 1,700 lives in 2016. Squamous cells carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are far more common, but far less life threatening. Despite being very amenable to treatment if identified at an early stage, they still caused 560 deaths in 2016.

Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in Australia. Cancer Australia predicts that this year nearly 2000 people will die from melanoma and 14,320 new cases will be diagnosed nationally.

“Last year a study found that melanoma cost the Australian healthcare system $201 million in 2017,” said Professor David Whiteman of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane.

An assessment of the risk of developing melanoma within the next few years for people of 40 and over can now be made using an online test developed by researchers at QIMR Berghofer.

Professor Whiteman and Dr Catherine Olsen developed the risk predictor using data from nearly 42,000 people aged from their forties to seventies. It calculates the results based on seven risk factors–age, sex, ability to tan, number of moles at age 21, number of skin lesions treated, hair colour and sunscreen use.

Basically the paler your skin and the more sun you are exposed to the greater the risk.

The melanoma risk predictor has proven highly accurate in tests. Members of the public can now use the risk predictor by visiting www.qimrberghofer.edu.au/melanomariskpredictor .

“At the moment, cancer control agencies don’t recommend population-wide screening programs for melanoma. It’s up to individuals to talk to their doctors about whether they need regular skin checks,” Professor Whiteman said.

“This online risk predictor will help identify those people with the highest likelihood of developing melanoma so that they and their doctors can decide how to best manage their risk.

“Regular screening of those at highest risk may help to detect melanomas early, and hopefully before they’ve spread to the lower layers of the skin and other parts of the body.

“Importantly, in this study, we found that people’s actual risk of melanoma was quite different to their own assessment. This highlights the importance of getting personalised advice on your melanoma risk, because it could well be different to your perceived risk.

“We encourage people to use it as a general guide, and if it says you have a high risk of melanoma, we strongly encourage you to visit your doctor and discuss whether a skin check would benefit you.

“Even if you have a low to medium risk, you still need to be sun safe. Most Australians are at a higher risk of melanoma than people in other countries due to the combined effects of fair skin and very high levels of sunlight.

“If you’re spending time outdoors this weekend, don’t become a statistic: remember to slip, slop, slap, seek shade and slide on sunglasses.”

A research paper about the development and performance of the risk prediction tool was  published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.