Researchers at Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have conducted a project involving collecting blood samples from over 12,000 melanoma patients and comparing them with blood samples from 23,000 people without melanoma. The research has flagged five specific genetic variations which may be linked to an increased risk of developing melanoma.

Every year 12,500 people are diagnosed with melanoma in Australia, and is the most common cancer in Australia in people aged 15-39, according to data from the Melanoma Institute of Australia.

A surprise finding of the research is that genes that result in longer so-called telomeres, which protect chromosomes from damage, are linked to higher incidences of melanoma. This is the opposite of the case with most other cancers, where it is shorter telomeres that are linked with increased cancer risk.

The researchers measured a mind boggling 9 million genetic variations in the human genome out of a total of around 40 million as part of the research project. The study confirmed two parts of the genome that had been suspected of being linked to melanoma since 2011 and added another five genetic variations implicated in higher risk of melanoma, bringing the total of implicated genetic variations to twenty.

The research project will help in the development of future treatment for melanoma that is more targeted and so more effective.