Skin cancer curiosities

Skin cancer news; predisposition to other types of cancer and detection using volatile biomarkers

A study by Jiping Chen and colleagues of the Medical University of Carolina, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2008,100:1215-1222), has provided more evidence that people who develop the commonest types of skin cancer; basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are at moderately increased risk for developing a variety of other types of common non-skin cancers later in life. The risk is highest in those who develop these skin cancers at a relatively young age e.g. less than 45 years old. This suggests that people who develop skin cancer, particularly if they develop it while young, may have a predisposition to other types of cancer.

The effect could occur through several mechanisms. One possibility is that predisposed people could have less effective DNA repair systems in their bodies. Another possibility is that they could have immune systems that are less effective at detecting and removing very early cancers.

Also a presentation by Michelle Gallagher and colleagues at the recent American Chemical Society meeting in August, 2008, reported on the possibility of detecting basal cell skin cancers by their “smell”. It has previously been shown that dogs can be trained to detect people with some forms of cancer by smelling their breath.

In this study the researchers used a special analytical chemistry instrument to measure the types and amounts of chemicals present in the air just above skin cancers and also above normal skin. They found that cancers appear to give off the same types of chemicals as normal skin but in different amounts. This means it may be possible to use the method to diagnose skin cancers in the future but it won’t be easy. Don’t hold your breath while waiting for this test to become available.

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