Erin Sundstrom and Madi Funnell apply sunscreen at Mermaid Beach. Picture: AAP/John Gass
Erin Sundstrom and Madi Funnell apply sunscreen at Mermaid Beach. Picture: AAP/John Gass

Queensland cancer hot spots revealed

A WORLD-LEADING Queens­land research project, four years in the making, has pinpointed cancer hotspots in thousands of neighbourhoods - including a Brisbane suburb where the rate of melanoma is a startling 101 per cent above the national average.

Keperra is named among the worst five areas in the state for rates of melanoma diagnosis, with the other four in more predictable beach spots.

St Lucia has Queensland's highest rate of breast cancer at 18 per cent above the national average, and Charters Towers is a prostate cancer hotspot at 53 per cent. Liver cancer is at its worst in the Torres Strait region, with a diagnosis rate an astonishing 261 per cent above the Australian average.

From today, Queenslanders can find out the trends for 20 of the most common cancers in the areas they live in a digital, interactive atlas.

The Australian Cancer Atlas, from researchers at Cancer Council Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and FrontierSI, is designed to advance cancer control. The findings will give health agencies and policymakers a better understanding of geographic disparities and health requirements.

The project is expected to be a great advance in the fight against a disease that is gripping the nation, with 138,000 new cancer cases estimated across the country in 2018 - that is three times more than in 1982. The disease bleeds more than $4.5 billion in direct health system costs.

Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in the country and southeast Queensland is the state capital. The regions of Manly/Lota, Bundall, Mermaid Beach and Wellington Point join Keperra as the worst five melanoma diagnosis hotspots.

Tropical areas with higher temperatures have the lowest rates of melanoma.

"The highest risk for being diagnosed with melanoma is predominately in southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales. These regions are renowned for their beach-oriented, outdoor lifestyle and relatively high UV levels, but more research needs to be done to further determine the reasons for geographical disparities across Australia," Cancer Council Queensland head of research Professor Joanne Aitken said.

"The majority of skin cancers are preventable, so it is ­essential all Australians take measures to protect themselves from harmful UV damage."

A rate of cancer higher than the national average of cancer incidence in the map is likely to reflect the characteristics, lifestyles and access to health services in the area.

Smoking and cancer screening rates will influence results.

Prof Aitken said national patterns in cancer incidence and survival rates based on ­location would not necessarily reflect individual risk.

Another surprise finding is that the map reveals a high rate of head and neck cancers across the state. The Brisbane suburb St Lucia has the lowest rate of head and neck cancers - 33 per cent below the national average - followed by other western suburbs Chapel Hill, Taringa, Fig Tree Pocket and Indooroopilly.

"While some disparities can be explained by lifestyle characteristics, access to health services or genetics, there are many disparities - such as head and neck cancer - where the cause is unknown. This is why the atlas is such an important tool as it will help researchers determine where we need to direct further projects to improve these disparities," Prof Aitken said.

For rates of breast cancer, St Lucia, Hamilton, Bulimba, Balmoral and Bribie Island trend the highest throughout Queensland.

City suburb ­Taringa carries the lowest rate of lung cancer in the state at 39 per cent below the national average with the Torres region the highest.