Unfortunately, Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world with an estimated 500,000 Australians diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer per year.
This is a significant burden on the Australian health care system, resulting in over 950,000 medical appointments and $300 million in costs each year. There is also the human cost, with people having to undergo repeated treatments and approximately 80 people losing their battle with these cancers in Queensland each year. Of these half a million people, 20% are diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Dr Glen Boyle from QIMR’s Drug Discovery Group has secured a fellowship from Perpetual’s John Thomas Wilson Trust to carry out research to ultimately improve the prognosis and treatment of a particular type of SCC.
“Cutaneous SCCs of the head and neck are extremely common in Queensland and account for 90% of all SCCs,” Dr Boyle said.
“Many people believe SCCs are relatively harmless skin cancers that can be burned off the skin, however there is a particular type of cutaneous SCC tumour that has the ability to invade nerves that affects around 3-7% of SCC sufferers.
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“The SCC tumours that attack nerves (perineual invasion) are associated with a much poorer prognosis for patients, which is why I am interested in better understanding these aggressive tumours.”
For the past 12 years Dr Boyle has been investigating the molecular development of head and neck and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
“In this current project I am aiming to identify the molecular changes that lead towards perineural invasion, in the hope of finding markers to allow for better diagnosis and potentially treatment,” Dr Boyle said.
“By understanding and identifying these molecular changes, it would allow the identification of patients with a high risk for perineural invasion, allowing aggressive treatment to prevent the tumour from invading the nerves.”
Perpetual’s Andrew Thomas said that through John Wilson’s generosity, Glen’s research will be supported for four years. “Ultimately we all hope Glen’s work will improve the health outcomes for anyone of us who could be diagnosed with a cutaneous SCC tumour,” said Mr Thomas.
The project will also assess new drugs for treatment of perineural invasion.