Queensland: Beautiful one day, deadly the next

Holding the title of Skin Cancer Capital of the World is one gong our sunshine state could do without, yet it has done so for several years and will be hard to shake without major effort.

In Queensland, more than 3,600 people are estimated to be diagnosed with melanoma each year and the Sunshine Coast remains a hotspot with an average of 496 cases presented annually.

“Incidental sun exposure over a lifetime can be more harmful than we realise, especially in Australia,” Dr Ken Dutton-Regester, a cancer researcher specialising in melanoma said.

“While it has been long-established that sun exposure events causing skin burning and peeling is linked to increased skin cancer risk, it’s only recently scientists have realised the impact small doses of UV exposure can have on the skin too.”

“There are new nationally agreed guidelines in place that people are advised to wear sunscreen on any day the UV index is forecast to reach three or higher.”

Dr Ken Dutton-Regester, cancer researcher and melanoma expert.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester, cancer researcher and melanoma expert.

“While wearing sunscreen protects your skin from the sun, you can also reduce your risk by avoiding the sun during midday and covering up with clothing such as hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts.”

In Queensland, the average UV index during the day is above 3 all year, making it important to be vigilant with sun protection measures even during the colder months.

On the Sunshine Coast, the current UV index can be as high as is 13.7 at its peak (12noon).

While rates of melanoma among younger people are declining, in large part due to the success of slip, slop, slap, seek, slide campaigns, those in older age groups are expected to steeply increase over the coming years due to damage done skin damage done earlier in life before such campaigns began.

Dr Dutton-Regester’s tips for improving sun safety

  1. Be more vigilant about the power of the sun and create a mindset of always needing to protect yourself.
  2. Be prepared. Put sunscreen on as part of your daily routine and keep it in a location where you’ll likely grab it when you head out for the day (near your car keys or wallet).
  3. Avoid leaving your sunscreen in the car as the heat build up from the sun over long periods of time can degrade the quality and make it ineffective. 
  4. Use multiple protection measures when you know you’ll be out in the sun. This includes wearing sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved clothing. If possible, avoid the sun between 10am and 2pm when it’s at its peak.
  5. Be a sunscreen warrior for your friends and family. Have plenty of it available wherever you go and offer it to them.

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WHAT MAKES AUSTRALIA THE MELANOMA HOTSPOT OF THE WORLD

  1. Australia is a country which is close to the equator. The closer to the equator, the higher the UV exposure. This means Australia has higher UV rates compared to European countries and the USA.
  2. The planet rotates around the sun in a slight elliptical shape. Sometimes we’re closer to the sun than other times of the year. Australia being in the southern hemisphere puts us closer in our summer months, while in the northern hemisphere they’re much further away.
  3. Our history with Australia being made up with a large population of white Europeans. As Europeans migrated out of Africa to the northern hemisphere with lower UV exposure, there was less need to maintain protective dark skin colour. When white Europeans migrated to Australia, their skin colour was not adapted to the higher UV rates.
  4. The hole in the ozone layer that’s largely over Australia and Antarctica has some impact, but there’s not as much effect as we first thought. It is now starting to repair and is transient.

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One of Dr Ken Dutton-Regester’s research programs is understanding more about drug resistance in late-stage melanoma. Patients can often become resistant to their current melanoma treatments. By understanding more about it, the aim is to create new treatment strategies that will extend responses and increase patient survival.

Dr Ken Dutton-Regester with an experiment in progress on melanoma cells to better understand drug resistance in the cancer.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester with an experiment in progress on melanoma cells to better understand drug resistance in the cancer.

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I was introduced to Ken in late 2018 by a mutual friend of ours, an extraordinary guy Jay Allen. I was immediately impressed by Ken and his passion, and thankful he chooses to use his knowledge to help in the battle against melanoma. We look forward to sharing more of Ken’s research with you.

Special thanks to Julie Coulthard from Inkee PR for writing this story and the photos. Glad you’re part of the team 😊  

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Cheers,

Raph

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