Young miners at risk of hidden skin cancer

Young Australians are more likely to have skin cancer detected on non-sunburnt parts of their body compared with people over 40, a University of Queensland study has found.

The report shows many younger Australians working in the mining industry could be at risk of developing melanoma in areas of their bodies covered by clothing.

As the deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma affects over 13,000 Australians every year.

With many young miners working in hot and arid conditions, the University of Queensland is encouraging people who are concerned to speak to their doctor.

“It’s important for young people to be aware, particularly if they have more than 20 moles, that they have increased risk and that melanomas can grow in areas without visible sun damage,” Diamantina Institute PhD candidate Erin McMeniman said.

Genetic testing might hold the key to survival for individuals carrying melanoma genes, with early detection increasing the chances of survival.

“Genetic testing for melanoma isn’t available in the public system yet, but I think that will change in the future,” McMeniman said.

“Melanoma patients are born with genetic mutations which make them more vulnerable to sun damage.”

Using DNA samples and photographs from 585 volunteers, the study also found that people with the red hair gene may carry the melanoma genes.

“If people are concerned, they should see their GP or dermatologist for a risk assessment and if they are at high risk they will typically be seen every 6–12 months for a full skin examination,” McMeniman said.

“Of course, go to the doctor sooner if any marks grow or change in colour or shape – if in doubt, get it checked out.”

Almost 250,000 people are employed in the mining industry, according to recent estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.