Sun-damaged patches linked to variety of skin cancers

BROWN (US)—Scaly skin lesions caused by sun damage can lead to more forms of skin cancer than doctors previously thought, according to a new study.

Lead author Martin Weinstock, professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, and researchers from Veterans Administration medical centers in Providence and Oklahoma City looked at 169 patients who had a high risk for skin cancers.

They, in turn, were among 1,131 patients from multiple cities who took part in a chemotherapy prevention trial. Most had at least one of the lesions, actinic keratosis, on their body. Combined, they had about 7,784 of the lesions on their faces and ears. There were up to six years of follow-up to quantify the risk of progression of actinic keratoses to cancer.

Two-thirds of the patients who had developed a treatable skin cancer, squamous-cell carcinomas, could trace their cancer to actinic keratoses. One-third of patients who ended up with basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer in the United States, could trace their cancers to actinic keratoses.

Scientists had not previously connected basal cell cancers to the lesions.

They also found that the actinic keratoses come and go, becoming invisible and resurfacing over time, posing a challenge for doctors because the lesions often were not visible during follow-up visits.

The research reinforces the need for skin cancer prevention, Weinstock says. Scientists estimate that 40 million people in the United States alone have some form of actinic keratoses. Preventative removal of the lesions costs more than $1 billion annually. Research is under way, Weinstock says, to determine if one of the treatments for actinic keratoses will be effective in preventing skin cancers.

Researchers from Rhode Island Hospital and Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit also contributed to the study. The research, highlighted in the current edition of Cancer, is supported by the Office of Research and Development R&D Service, Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brown University news: