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QIMR Berghofer develops online tool for skin cancer risk

Researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have developed an online tool to predict the risk for people aged 40 and over of developing non-melanoma skin cancers within three years.

Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are the most common cancers in humans, but there is currently no reliable test available for predicting a person’s risk of developing them.

The tool developed by QIMR Berghofer has been highly accurate when used in a research setting and will now be trialled by doctors from the Skin Cancer College of Australasia to confirm that it is accurate when used on patients.

Professor David Whiteman and his colleagues developed the tool using data from nearly 39 000 people aged between 40 and 70. It carefully weights a person’s responses to  questions about 10 risk factors for skin cancer, including their age, gender, smoking status, skin colour, tanning ability, freckling tendency, and other aspects of their medical history.

Professor Whiteman said members of the public aged 40 and over could now use the tool by visiting the website

“Members of the public need to be aware that this tool is not a substitute for visiting a doctor or skin cancer clinic,” Professor Whiteman said.

“Until we can confirm the accuracy of the tool in ‘real-world’ settings, individuals should exercise caution and use it as a general guide.

“If the tool indicates that you have a high risk of skin cancer, we strongly encourage you to visit your doctor.

“Regardless of your risk, most Australians – and particularly those with European ancestry – should take precautions to avoid skin cancer, like avoiding the sun during the hottest part of day, wearing a hat and protective clothing and using sunscreen.”

It is estimated that more than 400 000 non-melanoma skin cancers were diagnosed in Australia in 2011. Treating skin cancers in Australia costs the public health system more than $500 million per year in direct medical costs alone.

Professor Whiteman said he hoped that if the test proved to be accurate during trials it would be rolled out to all general practitioners and skin cancer clinics.

“The very high rates of skin cancer in Australia mean that GPs and skin cancer clinics are overwhelmed with patients,” Professor Whiteman said.

“We expect that in future doctors will be able to use this tool to determine how often patients aged 40 and over should be checked.

“As new treatments become available, this tool should also help doctors to accurately identify those patients who are most likely to benefit from early intervention.

“We hope that in future this test will make the delivery of health services more efficient and will provide cost savings.”

A paper about the development of the test has been published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The project was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).