What causes melanoma in 90% of young Australians?

What causes melanoma in 90% of young Australians?

19 October 2017

Melanoma is the most common cancer in young Australians aged 15 to 39 years. MIA’s postdoctoral researcher, Dr James Wilmott, is studying the mutational processes and genes involved in the development of melanoma in young Australian patients aged under 30.

He recently discovered that 90% of all the melanoma DNA mutations in young patients is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation-induced damage. Given how young they were, some as young as 15 and 16 years of age, this was a surprising finding.

“We didn’t expect such a high percentage of young patients to have their melanoma caused by UV damage,” says Dr Wilmott. “We didn’t think enough time had passed to accumulate so much damage in the genes but it goes to show us how dangerous intense intermittent exposure during your early years can be.”

The group is now investigating the hereditary genes that may be responsible for the susceptibility of these young patients to UV damage and lead to their early onset of disease.

His research, being presented today at the World Congress of Melanoma, also revealed that young melanoma patients have doubled the rates of the BRAF and PTEN gene mutations compared to the general population.

Dr James Wilmott

These discoveries will have implications for treating young patients and hopefully will help young people appreciate the benefits of sun safe behaviour to reduce their risk of melanoma.