Our Research into Skin Cancer

Cancer Council Research
Cancer Council NSW has funded over $3.1 million worth of research into skin cancer during the last six years. This research has:

  • improved our understanding of how skin cancers are formed,
  • created new ways to protect ourselves against it, and
  • worked to develop new treatments.

Here are two of our current studies, which highlight the strength of our current research efforts. This research has been made possible with the help of your support.


Making stressed melanoma self-destruct

Dr Nikolas Haass
Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology

By using a new microscope system that can look at the behaviour of individual melanoma cells in real time, the researchers are hoping to develop a more effective treatment for melanoma. Melanoma is the most aggressive skin cancer and is very resistant to treatments. The world-wide incidence of melanoma has been steadily increasing over the last 30 years with a particularly high prevalence in New South Wales, where melanoma is currently the most commonly diagnosed cancer in people aged 15-29.

Targeted therapy with new drugs, such as BRAF inhibitors, holds great promise but suffers from onset of resistance. Thus, there is a desperate need for more effective melanoma therapies. Dr Nikolas Haass and his team are testing a new approach by stressing the cancer cells in a particular way, causing them to self-destruct. The researchers will test a combination therapy, combining these stress-inducing drugs with drugs that make cancer cells more sensitive to stress. This treatment has already worked well in the lab, but now needs to be further tested before it can be used in people. By using a new technique called multi-photon imaging, the researchers can look at the behaviour of living melanoma cells in real time to test exactly how effective this treatment is. If this research proves effective, it could lead to an entirely new way of treating melanoma.


Changing skin cancer prevention worldwide

Prof Diona Damian and Prof Gary Halliday
University of Sydney

In a breakthrough that could dramatically reduce the number of skin cancers, Professor Diona Damian and Professor Gary Halliday have found that vitamin B3, a nontoxic and inexpensive vitamin, has a range of anti-cancer effects just by being rubbed into the skin or taken as a pill. The vitamin helps to reduce existing precancerous skin lesions, reduced numbers of new non-melanoma skin cancers in a series of pilot studies, and may even help to prevent melanoma, one of Australia’s most deadly cancers.

Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. If, as the researchers estimate, including vitamin B3 in sunscreen could prevent 50% of non-melanoma skin cancers, this research has the potential to dramatically improve skin cancer prevention. It can also help to heal existing precancerous lesions, and may even prevent melanoma and arsenic-induced skin cancer.