The epidemiology of basal cell carcinoma

Richmond-Sinclair, Naomi Monique (2010) The epidemiology of basal cell carcinoma. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a skin cancer of particular importance to the Australian community. Its rate of occurrence is highest in Queensland, where 1% to 2% of people are newly affected annually. This is an order of magnitude higher than corresponding incidence estimates in European and North American populations. Individuals with a sun-sensitive complexion are particularly susceptible because sun exposure is the single most important causative agent, as shown by the anatomic distribution of BCC which is in general consistent with the levels of sun exposure across body sites. A distinguishing feature of BCC is the occurrence of multiple primary tumours within individuals, synchronously or over time, and their diagnosis and treatment costs contribute substantially to the major public health burden caused by BCC. A primary knowledge gap about BCC pathogenesis however was an understanding of the true frequency of multiple BCC occurrences and their body distribution, and why a proportion of people do develop more than one BCC in their life.

This research project sought to address this gap under an overarching research aim to better understand the detailed epidemiology of BCC with the ultimate goal of reducing the burden of this skin cancer through prevention. The particular aim was to document prospectively the rate of BCC occurrence and its associations with constitutional and environmental (solar) factors, all the while paying special attention to persons affected by more than one BCC. The study built on previous findings and recent developments in the field but set out to confirm and extend these and propose more adequate theories about the complex epidemiology of this cancer.

Addressing these goals required a new approach to researching basal cell carcinoma, due to the need to account for the phenomenon of multiple incident BCCs per person. This was enabled by a 20 year community-based study of skin cancer in Australians that provided the methodological foundation for this thesis. Study participants were originally randomly selected in 1986 from the electoral register of all adult residents of the subtropical township of Nambour in Queensland, Australia. On various occasions during the study, participants were fully examined by dermatologists who documented cumulative photodamage as well as skin cancers. Participants completed standard questionnaires about skin cancer-related factors, and consented to have any diagnosed skin cancers notified to the investigators by regional pathology laboratories in Queensland. These methods allowed 100% ascertainment of histologically confirmed BCCs in this study population. 1339 participants had complete follow-up to the end of 2007. Statistical analyses in this thesis were carried out using SAS and SUDAAN statistical software packages. Modelling methods, including multivariate logistic regressions, allowed for repeated measures in terms of multiple BCCs per person. This innovative approach gave new findings on two levels, presented in five chapters as scientific papers: 1. Incidence of basal cell carcinoma multiplicity and detailed anatomic distribution: longitudinal study of an Australian population The incidence of people affected multiple times by BCC was 705 per 100,000 person years compared to an incidence rate of people singly affected of 935 per 100,000 person years. Among multiply and singly affected persons alike, site-specific BCC incidence rates were far highest on facial subsites, followed by upper limbs, trunk, and then lower limbs 2. Melanocytic nevi and basal cell carcinoma: is there an association?

BCC risk was significantly increased in those with forearm nevi (Odds Ratios (OR) 1.43, 95% Confidence Intervals (CI) 1.09-1.89) compared to people without forearm nevi, especially among those who spent their time mainly outdoors (OR 1.6, 95%CI 1.1-2.3) compared to those who spent their time mainly indoors. Nevi on the back were not associated with BCC.

  1. Clinical signs of photodamage are associated with basal cell carcinoma multiplicity and site: a 16-year longitudinal study Over a 16-year follow-up period, 58% of people affected by BCC developed more than one BCC. Among these people 60% developed BCCs across different anatomic sites. Participants with high numbers of solar keratoses, compared to people without solar keratoses, were most likely to experience the highest BCC counts overall (OR 3.3, 95%CI 1.4-13.5). Occurrences of BCC on the trunk (OR 3.3, 95%CI 1.4-7.6) and on the limbs (OR 3.7, 95%CI 2.0-7.0) were strongly associated with high numbers of solar keratoses on these sites.

  2. Occurrence and determinants of basal cell carcinoma by histological subtype in an Australian community Among 1202 BCCs, 77% had a single growth pattern and 23% were of mixed histological composition. Among all BCCs the nodular followed by the superficial growth patterns were commonest. Risk of nodular and superficial BCCs on the head was raised if 5 or more solar keratoses were present on the face (OR 1.8, 95%CI 1.2-2.7 and OR 4.5, 95%CI 2.1-9.7 respectively) and similarly on the trunk in the presence of multiple solar keratoses on the trunk (OR 4.2, 95%CI 1.5-11.9 and OR 2.2, 95%CI 1.1-4.4 respectively).

  3. Basal cell carcinoma and measures of cumulative sun exposure: an Australian longitudinal community-based study Dermal elastosis was more likely to be seen adjacent to head and neck BCCs than trunk BCCs (p=0.01). Severity of dermal elastosis increased on each site with increasing clinical signs of cutaneous sun damage on that site. BCCs that occurred without perilesional elastosis per se, were always found in an anatomic region with signs of photodamage.

This thesis thus has identified the magnitude of the burden of multiple BCCs. It does not support the view that people affected by more than one BCC represent a distinct group of people who are prone to BCCs on certain body sites. The results also demonstrate that BCCs regardless of site, histology or order of occurrence are strongly associated with cumulative sun exposure causing photodamage to the skin, and hence challenge the view that BCCs occurring on body sites with typically low opportunities for sun exposure or of the superficial growth pattern are different in their association with the sun from those on typically sun-exposed sites, or nodular BCCs, respectively. Through dissemination in the scientific and medical literature, and to the community at large, these findings can ultimately assist in the primary and secondary prevention of BCC, perhaps especially in high-risk populations.

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ID Code: 68152
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Green, Adele & Clements, Judith
Keywords: basal cell carcinoma, skin cancer, prospective studies, Australia, epidemiology, keratinocyte cancer, risk factors, phenotype, ultraviolet radiation, solar elastosis
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 07 Mar 2014 03:18
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2014 03:22

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