Brisbane Person of the Year candidate Professor Adele Green has been leading the fight against skin cancer for nearly 30 years.

Professor Adele Green AC has received much recognition for her outstanding contribution to cancer research. Officially proclaimed a Queensland Great at the launch of Queensland Week 2014, that honour was only the latest in a long list of accolades. Last year Professor Green was named both the overall winner of the Westpac Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence Award and a national finalist in the Australian of the Year Awards.

For nearly 30 years Professor Green, currently head of the cancer and population studies at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, has been at the frontline of the battle against skin cancer.

Her ground-breaking research has been pivotal in convincing the sun-loving Australian community that putting on sunscreen is the best way to fight skin cancer.

“Moderation of sun should be as it is for other lifestyle factors,” Professor Green says. “Everyone loves the sun – it’s beautiful – but people don’t realise that it is classed as a cancer agent just like cigarette smoke and asbestos. And in Brisbane we get very large amounts of ultra-violet radiation, even in winter time, when people then assume that because it is cold there is not very strong sun – but it’s not the case.”

During her university years in Brisbane during the 1980s Adele Green was both surprised and dismayed by the predominance of melanoma along the nation’s eastern seaboard.

“We really did have an epidemic and it wasn’t just elderly people. It was young fathers and young mothers dying of melanoma, and like breast cancer and prostate cancer people were starting to have personal connections to melanoma sufferers.

“We got together with some Cancer Council experts and asked ourselves – how do we stop this? We knew the cause and that it was preventable.”

In 1986 she embarked on a randomised field trial in Nambour. This landmark study helped identify the best ways to fight skin cancer.

“We saw Nambour as a community we could have a rapport with; it was close to Brisbane, plenty of sun exposure, a mix of indoor and outdoor workers and through the years the people of Nambour continued to give us grassroots support.”

More recently Professor Green was lead author of a trial which showed that sunscreen not only guards against skin cancer but it also fights wrinkles. “Yes; it’s one of those oft-quoted beauty tips that we can now back up with science.”

She says that over time she has observed a gradual change in attitudes; a shift from a sun-worshipping community to a sun-cautious community.

“Now we’re looking upstream, at what we can do better to lower the rates so that our children and our children’s children don’t have to think about treatment and cure, nor the money spent on the high incidence of this disease.

“My contention is that research is not proper research until it has gone full circle – looking at community health problems, solving those problems and then going back to the community with the answers.”