Skin cancer could lurk in 'normal-looking' skin

·2-min read

Australians with "perfect" skin unmarked by freckles or blemishes could still be at risk of sun-damaged DNA mutations that trigger cancer, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of Queensland are investigating the relationship between the number of mutations found in normal-looking skin and the number of a person's past skin cancers.

The findings show Australians can still have a high number of mutations in skin that looks normal.

As part of the study, scientists took skin samples of the forearms of 37 skin cancer patients which were frequently exposed to the sun.

"They had an average of four to five times more mutations in normal-looking skin compared to similar studies overseas," said PhD candidate and leader author Ho Yi Wong, from the Frazer Institute Dermatology Research Centre.

"The higher mutation levels are likely due to Australia having two to four times higher levels of ultraviolet light than the United Kingdom and Europe."

The study also matched people of the same age and sex who had a different number of skin cancers.

One group had many skin cancers and the other group had few to none.

"We found a 45 per cent difference between the groups, with a much larger number of mutations on the forearms of those with more skin cancers," Ms Wong said.

Authorities estimate two-thirds of Australians will develop skin cancer during their lifetime with Queensland leading the world in common skin cancers such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas.

Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani said the findings explain why people with a single skin cancer have a higher chance of developing others in the same area of the body.

"If we reduce mutation levels in normal-looking skin then we could reduce the risk of new skin cancers," Prof Khosrotehrani said.

"We found laser treatments and dermabrasion can 'wipe away' skin mutations and reduce the risk of skin cancer, but this approach is not applicable to everyone.

"Our next step is to explore therapies that can reduce the load of skin mutations."