Nearly two out of three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they reach 70, according to the Skin Cancer College Australasia (SCCA). The state of Queensland has the highest skin cancer rates in the country.

As a result, researchers at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland have developed an online skin cancer risk assessment tool. This uses ten questions to evaluate the extent to which a person aged 40 years or over is at risk of developing a non-melanoma form of skin cancer in the next three years. The tool is aimed at the general public, but could also be used by health professionals.

After basic questions about age, gender and ancestry, the test asks users about skin type, how their skin reacts to the sun, and how many facial freckles they had by the age of 21. The tool then asks how many times users were badly sunburned before the age of 10, and whether they have already had any sunspots or skin cancers removed. The user's history of smoking is also factored in. An estimated risk level is then calculated, ranging from "very much below average," to "below average," "within average," "above average" or "very much above average."

Professor David Whiteman, who led the team that created the tool, stresses that the test is no substitute for a trip to the doctor. In fact, he advises users share the results with their doctor.

The test was developed based on the results of the QSkin study, the largest ever undertaken in the country with almost 44,000 participants. Data from the study helped the team better understand the development of skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) -- caused by the growth of abnormal skin cells -- are the two most common types of skin cancer in adults, explain the QIMR researchers. These can affect both men and women, and are often diagnosed after the age of 50.

The skin cancer risk assessment tool is currently being tested by doctors at the SCCA, who are trialing it on patients to confirm the results. It has been found to be 80% reliable.

As new skin cancer treatments are developed, the online test could help medical professionals identify with greater accuracy those patients who are most at risk and who may require early intervention.

The test is available here: