Catching Rays? Throw 'Em Back

Ultraviolet rays from the sun activate enzyme that fosters non-melanoma skin cancers

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

(RxWiki News) According to a new study, the sun's ultraviolet rays activate an enzyme that aids skin cancer cells, helping the cells survive and proliferate. The finding, while uncovering yet another way these cancer cells hijack bodily functions, also paves the way to better treatments for non-melanoma skin cancer, which is diagnosed about a million times a year in the United States. Basal cell carcinoma is a common form of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Part of the reason for so many diagnoses is the fact that we're living longer and getting a lot more sun exposure in the process, according to Dr. Wendy Bollag, corresponding author of the study and cell physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia and the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

According to the research, more UV exposure equals more activity by the enzyme protein kinase D. That means we should get less sun exposure, particularly as we age. Protein kinase D is good for us under normal circumstances, when it is regulated appropriately. But the protein can misbehave, which could result in skin cancer. By promoting cell survival, protein kinase D can enable skin cells with a lot of DNA damage to become cancerous by reducing the natural ability of badly damaged skin cells to self-destruct, according to the research.

Some sun exposure is good as it provides vitamin D, essential to maintaining bone, breast and vascular health. But too much sun can result in skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma or the deadlier melanoma. Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma include a growth on the skin that is pearly or waxy, white or light pink, flesh-colored or brown and the area of skin may be raised slightly or flat.

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Review Date: 
December 7, 2010
Last Updated:
July 5, 2013