Skin smart: Simple online test could save your life
QUEENSLAND researchers have developed a simple online test for people aged 40 and over to predict their risk of developing melanoma in the next few years.
The test, to be launched today, is based on questionnaires involving about 40,000 Queenslanders, known as the QSkin study, including more than 650 people diagnosed with a melanoma during the research period.
It calculates a person's likelihood of developing melanoma in the next 3½ years based on risk factors such as age, gender, ability to tan, hair colour, sunscreen use and number of moles at age 21.
The test is described by co-developer David Whiteman, of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, as about 70 per cent accurate - much higher than similar tools used to determine breast and bowel cancer risk.
Professor Whiteman, head of QIMR Berghofer's cancer control group, has been working on the melanoma prediction test for eight years.
In the next few years, he hopes to add DNA data from blood analysis involving the QSkin participants to improve the predictive value of the online tool but says no test is ever likely to be 100 per cent accurate.
Eventually, the goal is for patients to be able to go to their general practitioner, complete the online test and provide a blood sample for an assessment of their melanoma risk.
"This tool is about helping people understand what their risk is and if they're at very high risk, then they may need to talk to their doctor about having their skin checked more regularly just in case there are any early melanomas that can be picked up before they've spread," Prof Whiteman said.
But he said even people assessed as having a low melanoma risk should remain vigilant about sun protection.
"Most Australians are at higher risk of melanoma than people in other countries due to the combined effects of fair skin and very high levels of sunlight," Prof Whiteman said.
A mother of three girls, Meegan Olding had a melanoma surgically removed from her face in February after a skin check. The cancer was removed before it had a chance to grow beyond the top layers of the skin.
"I feel like it is absolutely a lucky escape," the 40-year-old Defence Force lieutenant colonel said. "I look at the scar and it's quite confronting but I'll wear it with pride because it means that I'm alive. I will certainly be wearing more sunscreen after this and wearing a hat more often.
"I've been very good with the kids, I'm always putting sunscreen on them, always making them wear a hat and rashies, but I don't always do that for myself."
In 2018, Cancer Australia predicts that more than 14,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed and more than 1900 people will die from the skin cancer.
To access the online melanoma prediction test: qimrberghofer.edu.au/melanomariskpredictor