Tasmanian researchers are set to examine the links between sun exposure and prostate cancer in an effort to identify men most at risk of contracting the disease.
The three-year study, which could pave the way for earlier intervention and treatment, was announced yesterday in Hobart by Menzies Research Institute director Prof Terry Dwyer.
It will investigate the possibility that several candidate genes important in the bodys response to sun exposure may interact with vitamin D and influence the likelihood of a person developing the disease.
“Prostate cancer is the commonest cancer now in men, if you set aside skin cancers, but there is not much known about how to prevent it,” Prof Dwyer said.
“The Menzies Institute has had a focus on finding preventable causes of disease things that we can do to stop the disease occurring.
“We have been looking at prostate cancer, looking at what leads there might be for doing research to find causes.
“One of the leads is that vitamin D does seem to reduce the growth of cancer cells, including prostate cancer cells.”
He said scientists also knew that ultra-violet radiation and skin type seemed to play some role in determining the risk of prostate cancer.
“For example, in America, dark skinned men have a higher risk of prostate cancer than white Americans,” Prof Dwyer said.
“This is quite an important lead we think.
“We have put forward the view that if vitamin D is important and if ultra-violet may be, lets try to find out more about this causal pathway by looking at genes that actually influence vitamin D in the body, influence the way vitamin D is used, and genes that relate to the skin type of the individual that determine how their skin produces vitamin D.
“In our population, about 90 per cent of the vitamin D thats there is actually produced by the action of sun on the skin.
“So we are focusing on that area and we are looking at several different genes that we think have the potential to tell us something.”
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, about 10,000 Australian men are diagnosed and more than 2500 die of the disease each year.