Having eczema could reduce skin cancer risk

Eczema: Dermatology Nurse explains how to use emollients

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According to research carried out by King’s College London, having eczema triggers an immune response which they say could prevent tumour formation.

This immune response works by shedding potentially dangerous cancerous cells from the surface of the skin.

Eczema sometimes results in the loss of structural proteins in the outer layers of skin, leading to a defective skin barrier.

In the study, mice were genetically engineered to replicate some of the skin defects found in those with eczema.

The researchers compared the effects of two cancer-causing chemicals in mice and mice with the defect.

They discovered that the number of skin cancer tumours in the mice with the defects was six times lower than in those without the defects.

As a result, the results suggest that defects in what is known as the epidermal barrier protected the mice against the development of benign tumours.

The study, published in the journal eLife, was the first of its kind to show that allergy arising as a result of skin defects could protect someone from skin cancer.

However, researchers also discovered that both types of mice were as susceptible as the other to developing cancer related mutations.

Speaking about the research, Professor Fiona Watt said: “We are excited by our findings as they establish a clear link between cancer susceptibility and an allergic skin condition in our experimental model.

They also support the view that modifying the body’s immune system is an important strategy in treating cancer.”

She added: “I hope our study provides some small consolation to eczema sufferers, that this uncomfortable skin condition may actually be beneficial in some circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Dr Mike Turner commented: “Skin cancer is on the rise in many countries and any insight into the body’s ability to prevent tumour formation is valuable in the fight against this form of cancer.

“These findings that eczema can protect individuals from skin cancer support theories linking allergies to cancer prevention and open up new avenues for exploration whilst providing some (small) comfort for those suffering from eczema.”

However, while the study may have opened up new avenues and provided an insight into eczema’s link with skin cancer, there is one key caveat.

The study was published in 2014; as a result, it is important to take into account the possibility that a new theory may have been released showing the opposite.

What are the main symptoms of skin cancer?

This all depends on whether someone is looking for melanoma or non-melanoma; the latter refers to skin cancer which sits on the surface while melanomas are a type of skin cancer which has spread to other parts of the body.

According to the NHS, signs to look out for include a mole that is:
• Getting bigger
• Changing shape
• Changing colour
• Bleeding or becoming crusty itchy or sore

The NHS also has an ABCDE checklist for those who are concerned about a mole:
• Asymmetrical – Melanomas are not symmetrical and have an irregular shape
• Border – They normally have a notched or ragged border
• Colours – Melanomas are a mix of two or more colours
• Diameter – Melanomas are usually larger than six millimetres
• Enlargement or elevation.

If you experience any of these symptoms, speak to your GP.

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