Researchers say the findings may help doctors identify people at highest risk for cancer.
The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Cancer Control Group and lead researcher, Professor David Whiteman, said the study used data from QSkin, the largest research study ever conducted on skin cancer, as well as the UK BioBank.
Researchers studied participants’ DNA samples to evaluate how a person’s genetic makeup can affect their risk of getting non-melanoma skin cancers and subsequent cancers in other parts of the body.
“We found that people with high genetic risks of non-melanoma skin cancer went on to experience higher rates of some common cancers, including cancers of the lung, breast, bowel and kidney,” Professor Whiteman said.
“That doesn’t mean people who have had these skin cancers will definitely get other cancers later on, but it does suggest they have a higher general susceptibility.”
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with more than 400,000 people treated for basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas each year.
While observational studies have documented a higher incidence of other cancers in people who have had skin cancer, this latest research from QIMR Berghofer offers a possible explanation.
“There are a lot of underlying risk factors, such as smoking, drinking and obesity, which could have explained the link between developing skin cancer and getting other cancers later,” Professor Whiteman said.
“By focusing purely on the genes, we’ve found that people may also be born with a higher genetic risk of cancer.”
The research will need to be replicated in other populations around the world to validate the findings. Professor Whiteman said the results could then inform targeted public health messaging and education to help prevent further cancers in people who get skin cancer. “If our findings are validated by other studies, doctors will know that patients who have had non-melanoma skin cancer probably have a higher risk of other cancers,” he said.
“It means that they can start those important conversations about smoking, obesity, keeping a healthy diet, and getting recommended bowel screens, mammograms and pap smears to minimise that risk.
“These discussions are really important, because we have shown previously that about one third of all cancers diagnosed in Australia each year are potentially preventable.”
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