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Skin cancers on the rise in Australia as sun damage catches up with ageing population | Skin cancer

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The number of non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia continues to rise steadily each year, despite successful sun-safe education campaigns, new research has found.

The increase in cases of 2-6% each year for the past three decades was driven by those aged 55 and above, according to the study led by Associate Prof Catherine Olsen from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, published on Thursday.

Prof David Whiteman, a senior author on the study from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, said despite the strong sun-safe messaging Australians are now exposed to, the rise in cases was being driven by sun damage catching up with people in older age groups who experienced UV exposure in their youth.

“And so as our population is living longer and more people move into those age groups that manifest in cancer, they’re now showing the effects of their sun exposure from years and decades before,” he said.

“The good news is that it’s never too late to use sun protection, and that even people in their 40s and beyond who start using sun protection every single day can reduce their risk of skin cancer and reduce the incidence of new skin cancers forming if they’ve already had it.”

Researchers said the increase in cases may be an underestimate because data on non-melanoma skin cancers is not recorded in state and territory cancer registries, except in Tasmania.

Olsen and her colleagues said this must change, and recommended that population-based cancer registries work towards statutory notification and routine reporting of all non-melanoma skin cancers. These are also known as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas (collectively known as keratinocyte cancers).

Because of a lack of routine reporting, the researchers analysed six previous studies that used Medicare data, data from the Tasmanian registry on keratinocyte diagnoses or population surveys asking people about any confirmed skin cancer diagnosis. They aggregated this data to calculate lifetime risk of developing keratinocyte cancer using estimate methods established by Cancer Research UK.

While the authors acknowledged their findings were limited by national incidence rates being out of date and of moderate quality, and the fact that many suspicious skin lesions are removed by doctors before a cancer diagnosis has been confirmed so would not have been captured in the Medicare data or surveys, their analysis nonetheless “indicates very high rates of keratinocyte cancer in Australia”.

“Incidence of keratinocyte cancer in Australia appears to have increased by 2–6% per year over the past three decades,” the study, published in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, found. “We estimate that 69% of Australians will have at least one excision for keratinocyte cancer in their lifetime.”

Whiteman said people sometimes thought that because keratinocyte cancers are less deadly and tend to grow slower than melanoma, they do not need to be concerned by them.

“But keratinocyte cancers kill about 500 people a year, and if not treated they can borrow into nerves on the face and into the head and track back into the brain. People may need to have massive surgery and radiotherapy. So it is a dreadful disease.”

The study found declines in keratinocyte cancer rates over time in younger age groups. However, Heather Walker, chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Skin Cancer Committee, said it was important sun-safe campaigns and advertising continued to be funded.

Data published on 2 March by SunSmart showed 2020-2021 had the highest number of sunburn presentations to emergency departments in Victoria since 2016-2017, and presentations in the summer were highest among adolescents aged 10-19 years (34%).

In December, the federal government announced funding for the first national skin cancer campaign in over a decade.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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