Researchers in Australia have developed an online test aimed at people aged 40 and over that forecasts their risk of developing melanoma.
The test is based on surveys involving about 40,000 people from Queensland, Australia. The study includes more than 650 people diagnosed with a melanoma during an assessment of their risk.
The test calculates a person’s probability of developing skin cancer in the next 3.5 years based on risk factors such as age, gender, ability to tan, hair color, sunscreen use and the number of moles at age 21.
The test was co-developed by David Whiteman, of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and was described as about 70 percent accurate.
This is much higher than similar tools used to diagnose breast and bowel cancer risk. Professor Whiteman, who is also head of the QIMR Berghofer’s cancer control group, has been working on the melanoma prediction test for the last eight years.
In the next few years, Professor Whiteman hopes to add DNA data from blood analysis from the study participants to be able to improve the predictive skills of the online tool. However no test will ever be 100 per cent accurate, Whiteman says.
Complete online test at GP
The goal is eventually for the 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,” Whiteman said.
But, according to Whiteman, even people who were said to have a low skin cancer risk should remain careful 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,” Whiteman said.
Regular screening necessary
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer which usually develops on parts of the body that are overexposed to the sun.
In the world, Australia and New Zealand have the highest rate of melanoma diagnosis, according to the Cancer Council Australia. In 2015, there were over 1500 deaths in Australia due to melanoma.
Hospital expenses related to melanoma have cost the Australian healthcare system $201 million in 2017.
The online test places people into one of five categories. These range from those who are "very much above average risk" down to "very much below average risk".
"Regular screening of those at higher risk may help detect melanomas early and hopefully before they have spread to the lower layers of the skin and other parts of the body," Professor Whiteman said.