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‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew encourages surfers and swimmers to take part in high-tech skin check for new research


Jessica Nelson
15 March 2022

Southern Cross University researchers are using cutting-edge technology in a new study aimed at detecting skin cancers earlier in avid swimmers and surfers.

Project leader Associate Professor Mike Climstein and co-researchers Dr Nela Rosic and Adjunct Associate Professor Michael Stapelberg are calling on year-round swimmers, stand-up paddle boarders, cyclists and walkers from across Northern NSW and Southern QLD to take part in the study.

In Australia, two in three people are diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70, and those residing in Northern NSW and Queensland face the highest risk of developing melanoma – highlighting the critical need for early testing and treatment.

After completing a short questionnaire, volunteers will receive a whole-body skin check using cutting-edge FotoFinder mole mapping technology at the Advanced Skin Cancer Practice located at the John Flynn Specialist Suites in Tugun.

In 2020, the same researchers conducted an Australian-first study using traditional skin checking methods. The incidence of melanoma skin cancer in surfers and swimmers was found to be 97 times higher in surfers and 34 times higher in swimmers than the general population.

This was based on the analysis of more than 170 ocean users from the Gold Coast and the NSW North Coast, where almost half (41.3%) were identified as having pre-malignant or malignant skin cancers. Among the study volunteers were some of the world’s top-ranked surfers.

Professor Climstein said the study garnered international attention, with Southern Cross University researchers receiving funding to further skin cancer research into melanomas and others including non-melanoma basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

“This funding enabled our team to purchase a high-resolution digital dermatoscopic system that enables mole mapping and comparison, powered by artificial intelligence. Called FotoFinder, this new, high-tech scanner is state-of-the-art, enabling the clinician to document a person’s entire skin and individual moles over time and detect pathological changes as early as possible,” Professor Climstein said.

“Improved scanning capacity is particularly beneficial as early stages of melanoma development in high-risk individuals often lacks any specific recognised features of melanoma, and can be very small in size. This study aims to predict and identify skin cancer in high-risk individuals, which is critical to improving health outcomes and reducing skin cancer mortality rates.”

World-champion surfer and Gold Coast icon Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew AM said skin cancers should be top of mind for surfers and swimmers.

As a skin cancer-survivor and strong advocate for regular check-ups, Rabbit’s most recent brush with melanoma was just a few weeks ago in early 2022 following his regular skin check.

“South East Queensland is known as having the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world – but this study is a great way for year-round surfers, swimmers, stand-up paddle borders, cyclists and walkers to get a skin check to ensure their own health, while also contributing to valuable research that is being shared globally,” Rabbit, age 67, says.

“I had my first melanoma 30 years ago, then last month I had my second one. I believe regular skin checks have kept me alive. I wouldn’t have made my 40th birthday or seen my kids grow up if it wasn’t for regular skin checks, because early detection gives you every chance of survival, however late stage detection is all too often fatal for Australians.

“Both my melanomas were caught when they were primary and superficial before they even got to stage 1 – and the doctor took enough of a margin from each that I was given the all clear afterwards both times. I get my skin checked every three months, and I’m telling people not to procrastinate – don’t put off getting a skin check.

“Any breakthrough in treatment, technology and research that helps with early detection or very thorough diagnosis is incredibly valuable.”

Surfing and swimming are two popular recreational aquatic activities in Australia, with an estimated 2.7 million surfers and three million swimmers nationwide. These activities are associated with prolonged intermittent exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which is recognised as a causal mechanism in the development of skin cancers.

To broaden the scope of the research, Professor Climstein said Southern Cross is looking for industry partners to support the development of clinical biomarkers associated with the early detection and timely prevention of skin cancer.


How to take part in the study:

This research study into skin cancer is open to anyone aged 18 years and over who surfs, swims, stand-up paddleboards, cycles or walks year-round. Participants from the Gold Coast and the NSW North Coast are invited to take part.

The study involves a skin check at Advanced Skin Cancer Practice located at the John Flynn Specialist Suites (Tugun, QLD) where participants will complete a questionnaire followed by a comprehensive skin check using cutting-edge FotoFinder mole mapping technology.

The study is open now. Contact 07 5601 0495 to book a screening.

Available days are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Medicare rebates apply.

To become an industry partner for the study contact Associate Professor Climstein on 07 5589 3330 or