To launch the official start of summer, The Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) and Suncorp have announced a first-ever partnership to combat the scourge of skin cancer in Queensland.
This partnership, whereby Suncorp will financially support skin cancer research at QIMR, coincides with new skin cancer findings at QIMR which have determined that the development of moles in very young children (under the age of 4) is strongly linked to sun exposure and a particular skin type.
Previous research at QIMR has shown that people with high mole counts have greatly increased risks of melanoma in later life. This new QIMR study is one of the first of its kind to examine mole counts in very young children. “The findings of this study are significant in that we know moles are strongly associated with melanoma but very little has been known about their development in the critical first years of life. Previous studies have tended to focus on school age children and adolescents,” said Dr David Whiteman from QIMR’s Cancer and Population Studies Group.
“Skin colour, skin type and facial freckling were all associated with mole counts in these young children, as well as ethnicity. Children with dark skin and those who developed deep tans had significantly lower mole counts than children with fair skin.”
Of significance was the fact that the presence of facial freckling was associated with markedly higher mole counts on both the trunk and head and neck. The correlation between freckling and moles was strongest among children older than 3 years, although there still existed a correlation among younger children. Children with green or hazel eyes also had higher mole counts than children with brown or black eyes, as did children who were exposed to moderate to high levels of sun exposure on weekends than children who spent less time outdoors.
“We also found that children who always wore hats (summer and winter) and children who applied sunscreen every summer day had fewer moles than children who did not wear hats or who applied sunscreen less frequently,” said Dr Whiteman. “The most protective hats were the legionnaire-type hats which covered ears and neck.”
Regular use of sunscreen particularly reduced numbers of moles on the head and neck, which are the most common sites for “sun-induced melanoma” in later life.
QIMR, which has one of the largest skin cancer research units in Australia, has never before embarked on a partnership with a company to actively target skin cancer prevention, treatment and diagnosis. “Our association with Suncorp comes at a crucial time because skin cancer rates in Queensland are almost at epidemic proportions and we desperately require funding in order to reduce the statistics. Suncorp’s support will now enable us to undertake public education programs as well continue vital research,” said QIMR Director, Professor Michael Good.
Suncorp CEO John Mulcahy said that with Queensland often described as the skin cancer capital of the world, it was appropriate that the state’s biggest company should join forces with QIMR to help find a cure for skin cancer. “Thousands of Queensland families are affected by this potentially lethal disease every year. In light of this, we thought it fitting that a company that has been a part of the fabric of Queensland for more than a century to rally behind the cause. We at Suncorp are proud of the role we play in the community and we wanted to invest in the health of Queenslanders. It is our intention to provide long term, skin cancer support to Queenslanders so we are proud to join forces with the QIMR to help protect people from the deadly effects of skin cancer.
“We will also be launching a range of skin care protection initiatives to complement the QIMR partnership including an alliance with the Sunshine Coast City Councils Lifeguard Service which will see shade tents and sun screen available to beach goers throughout the summer,” he said.
“This new QIMR study confirms that environmental factors are strong determinants of mole development at very early ages and that it is essential to begin sun protection measures from the moment of birth onwards – especially in a region like Queensland where there is year round exposure to high levels of ultra-violet radiation,” said Dr Whiteman.
The QIMR study involved almost 200 children from nine childcare centres in Brisbane, with data collected over a period of four months.