As the summer months approach and the weather gets warmer, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with prolonged exposure to the sun. This week (6th-12th May) is Sun Awareness Week, part of a campaign run by the British Association of Dermatologists, which aims to raise awareness of the dangers of overexposure to the sun and ways to protect your skin against sun damage.
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted naturally by the sun or artificially through the use of sunbeds can cause sunburn, which is an indication of damage to the DNA within our skin cells. The accumulation of DNA damage overtime can cause cells to grow uncontrollably and increase the risk of developing cancer.
UV radiation is associated with an increased risk of skin cancer, including non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and since the early 1990s, melanoma incidence rates have more than doubled in the UK. Approximately 15,400 new melanoma cases are diagnosed in the UK each year. Getting sunburn once every 2 years can triple your risk of developing melanoma, and almost 90% of melanoma cases in the UK could be prevented by avoiding overexposure to UV rays1.
Our melanoma research
Melanoma is one of the cancer types on which research is focused here at the BCI. One group in particular that focuses on melanoma is Professor Victoria Sanz-Moreno’s laboratory group. Professor Moreno’s group looks at how tumour cells spread around the body, in a process known as metastasis- one of the biggest causes of cancer mortality.
Melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells in the skin, called melanocytes. When these cells become cancerous and grow uncontrollably, they can invade the surrounding skin or spread to other areas of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver and lungs2.
Recent work by the Sanz-Moreno group shed light on how melanoma cells interact with and influence their environment when they grow and spread. Aggressive melanoma cells are able to manipulate the immune system to their advantage by releasing signals that hijack immune cells. As a result, immune cells that are supposed to recognise and destroy cancer cells actually behave differently and support the growth and spread of the tumour.
By using drugs to block the release of the signals that reprogram the immune cells, the team were able to prevent cancer progression in experimental models. The team will now look at combining drugs that block migration and invasion of cancer cells with other types of drugs, such as immunotherapies or targeted therapies in the hope of identifying effective treatment combinations that can improve patient outcomes. You can read the full story here and the Cell publication here.
As the number of melanoma cases is predicted to rise by 7% in the UK between 2014 and 20353, it is important to be aware of the steps we can take to minimise sun damage to our skin. For information on how to enjoy the sun safely, visit the Cancer Research UK website.
1 Cancer Research UK, 2019, accessed May 2019, <https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/sun-uv-and-cancer/how-does-the-sun-and-uv-cause-cancer>
2 British Skin Foundation, accessed May 2019, <https://www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk/melanomaskincancer>
3 Cancer Research UK, accessed May 2019, <https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-Zero>