Skin Cancer Protection That's Not Sunscreen

Basal and squamous cells have similar skin cancer risk factors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Having too much fun in the sun may lead to unexpected consequences, such as skin cancer. Along with sunscreen and limiting exposure, scientists may have found another tool to help prevent skin cancer.

A follow up to a study involving skin cancer and the effect of a treatment for African sleeping sickness, α-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO),  determined it's still effective years after people stopped taking the drug. This could potentially lead to a new way to prevent skin cancer.

"Wear sunscreen, it protects against skin  cancer."

In the original phase III study, 291 individuals with a history of skin cancer were treated with either DFMO or a placebo for four to five years. Researchers found that DFMO helped prevent  skin cancer, with patients being treated with DFMO having less reported cases than those who just took a placebo. The only side effect was damage to the ear but no hearing loss.

DFMO was found to be effective in helping prevent  basal cell cancer, but not squamous cell cancer. Basal and squamous cell cancer make up the non-melanoma group of skin cancers and are not as severe or life-threatening as melanoma.

Basal cell cancer is the most common form of cancer, affecting a local area that does not spread. Squamous cell cancer affects the tissues making up the skin and can spread to other parts of the body.

Researchers followed up with 209 patients from the original study and found that patients treated with DFMO over five years continued to have fewer reported cases than those who took the placebo, even several years after treatments stopped. No other harmful side effects were reported.

One possible explanation for these decreased incidents could be due to patients changing skin exposure habits.

Basal and squamous cell have similar risk factors. Exposure to sun is the main risk factor for both types of non-melanoma cancer. Age and skin type are also risk factors for basal cancer. According to Howard H. Bailey, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, skin cancer incidents are increasing each year.

Despite increased public health attention given to risks of over-exposure to sun and UV rays via tanning salons, two million skin cancer cases are reported each year. For Dr. Bailey, DFMO can be vital in reducing the number incidents of skin cancer because of its possible long-term effectiveness. More tests are needed in the future to determine if DFMO can be used as a preventative treatment for skin cancer. 

These results were presented at the 10th American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.

Research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 24, 2011
Last Updated:
October 25, 2011