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Smokers more likely to develop skin cancer, QIMR Berghofer research finds

By Andree Withey 

Smokers be warned, scientists have found the strongest evidence yet of a link between smoking and a common form of skin cancer.

Nearly 19,000 people were involved in the study by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute that found smokers were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) than non-smokers.

“These type of cancers are not as lethal as melanomas, but they’re much more common and they’re still quite serious cancers of the skin,” Professor David Whiteman said.

‘They can burrow into the skin and cause quite a degree of disfigurement and pain.’

“They’re not trivial cancers, by any means.”

The research team found the risk was particularly strong for people who were current smokers, as opposed to people who had quit or never taken up the habit.

“We also found that among the smokers and former smokers, their risk of skin cancer wasn’t affected by how long they’d smoked for, how heavily they’d smoked,” Professor Whiteman said.

In contrast, no evidence was found that smokers had higher risks of basal cell carcinomas (BCC) than non-smokers.

The study involved 18,828 Caucasian Queenslanders aged 40 to 69 who had never been diagnosed with a skin cancer.

Professor David Whiteman and his colleagues tracked how many common skin cancers the group developed over three years, in Australia’s biggest and longest running skin cancer study.

It started in 2010 and will continue for another five years, aiming to better understand the genetic relationships between the risk factors in the environment and what it is about a person’s own susceptibility that increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer.

“We don’t yet understand how smoking might increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, but these findings strongly suggest that by quitting, smokers are lowering their risk to the same level as someone who has never smoked,” he said.

“This is another good reason to quit.”

The findings have been published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.