One in four sun-exposed skin samples contain DNA mutations

A UK study has suggested that as many as one in four middle-aged people's skin may contain the type of DNA mutations related to the development of skin cancer. 1

It should be pointed out that the study was very small, with just four participants. However, researchers found hundreds of normal cells with mutations linked to cancer on skin taken from the eyelids of three women and one man aged between 55 and 73. None of the participants had any previous history of cancer.

These results were a lot higher than the researchers anticipated, and it led them to estimate that 25% of normal skin cells could have the type of mutations which could lead to skin cancer in future.

However, with such a small study and skin only taken from the eyelids, it is difficult to say whether these results would be matched in a larger study using a variety of sampling sites around the body, and so further research is required.

The good news, however, is that your risk of skin cancer can be reduced by:

  • Covering up - wide-brimmed hats, loose clothing and wrap-around sunglasses
  • Using sunscreen - at least SPF 15, good UVA protection and re-apply regularly
  • Sticking to the shade - and avoiding the midday sun as much as possible between 11.00 am and 3.00 pm.

You should also avoid using sunbeds or any other form of tanning device.

Reference:

1 Martincorena I, Roshan A, Gerstung M, et al. High burden and pervasive positive selection of somatic mutations in normal human skin. Science. Published online May 22 2015

News sources:

Quarter of skin cells 'on road to cancer'. BBC News, May 22 2015

Skin cancer alert for the over-50s: Millions failing to heed advice over sun damage. Daily Mail, May 22 2015