Skin cancer research ongoing in U.S. and U.K.

By Kathy Hubbard

Every year around this time – must have something to do with the summer solstice – I have written articles about skin cancers and what causes them. Can you spell UV light? Each summer I advise you to use sunscreen everyday on exposed skin. And, I always ask you to avoid tanning beds.

For the most part we know what causes skin cancers. But, there’s a lot we don’t know. The American Cancer Society employs a staff of researchers who “relentlessly pursue the answers that help us understand how to prevent, detect, and treat cancer, including skin cancer.”

They say that the exact number of skin cancer sufferers is unknown because two types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell cancers are not reported to cancer registries. However, we do know that about 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year and that 76,380 cases of melanoma, the serious one, are expected to be diagnosed this year. Approximately 10,000 people will die from melanoma in 2016.

Currently, the ACS is funding 64 different research projects to the tune of $20,844,510. For example, Leah Ferrucci, PhD, at Yale University “is developing a web-based intervention to reduce indoor tanning among young women recently diagnosed with a non-cancerous skin condition related to UV exposure.

“Kyle Hadden, PhD, at the University of Connecticut is investigating whether vitamin D, which the body creates naturally when in the sun, has the potential to be used as a starting point in the creation of new drugs to treat skin cancer.

“Xiaoyang Wu, PhD, at the University of Chicago is studying a protein called RIPK4, which affects the role skin cancer stem cells play in the growth of skin tumors, such as squamous cell carcinoma.”

And the list goes on. There’s also research study being conducted at the University of Chicago on organ transplant recipients and how antirejection medications increase vulnerability to skin cancers.

Medical News Today reports that Christin Burd of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Ohio State University has recently completed a study using a “genetically engineered mouse model of melanoma.” Yes, they sunburned mice for this research, to find that indeed using SPF30 sunscreen may delay the onset of melanoma. Proof of a long-believed theory.

At Boston Children’s Hospital, researchers studied zebrafish to track the development of melanoma.

“Researchers have, for the first time, visualized the origins of cancer from the first affected cell and watched its spread in a live animal. Their work could change the way scientists understand melanoma and other cancers and could lead to new, early treatments before the cancer has taken hold,” an article published in Science News reported.

Cancer Research UK, based in London, states that more than nine out of ten people diagnosed with malignant melanoma will live for at least a decade. They believe their research contributes to the progress, but admit that there is much more to do.

The highlights of their on-going projects are, “for example, Dr. Claudia Wellbrock in Manchester is studying how melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, starts to grow and then spreads to other parts of the body. This knowledge could make current treatments more effective and lead to new therapies.

“In Dundee, Professor Irene Leigh and her team are focusing on the biology and causes of a type of non-melanoma skin cancer. Her work is uncovering how it develops, leading to new ways to prevent and treat the disease.

“Dr. Victoria Sanz-Moreno in London is investigating how melanoma cells move and spread throughout the body, to find new ways to stop skin cancer in its tracks.

“And Dr. Pippa Corrie in Cambridge is leading a national clinical trial to see whether a drug that slows blood vessel growth can prevent melanoma coming back after surgery.”

So, you can see that there are a lot of inroads to better treatments. But, as always, Benjamin Franklin said it best, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Sunscreen anyone?

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.