Early Signs of Skin Cancer Can Be Inherited
To protect against the early signs of skin cancer, we all know to wear sunscreen and stay out of the sun between those peak hours, but a pair of recent studies both suggest a genetic component to this form of cancer that we cannot escape.
Earlier work in this area suggested that melanoma and other skin cancers might run in families, but researchers often find it hard to distinguish between genes and the environment, and so the question remained unanswered.
An Australian study out of the University of Queensland attempted to address this challenge by looking at twin pairs where one twin had been diagnosed with melanoma. Using 125 twin pairs (27 sets of identical twins, 98 sets of fraternal twins) the researchers found that having an identical twin who had melanoma increased a person’s own risk of developing the same disease nearly ten fold.
Having a fraternal twin with this form of cancer nearly doubled the other twin’s risk of being diagnosed as well.
This suggests that some of the increased melanoma risk can be attributed to your genes, in particular the interaction between genes. The Australian researchers estimate that genetics account for about half of the difference in skin cancer risk between two people.
The second study, conducted by a team out of the University of California, Los Angeles used the Swedish Family-Cancer Database to look at the risk of several types of skin cancer among the brothers and sisters or children of those diagnosed with the condition.
They found that a person’s risk of cancer (of various types, not just the ones a family member had) increases if they have a sibling or parent with a non-melanoma skin cancer.
It may well be that your family history can be used to assess your own risk of developing cancer of the skin.
This year, an estimated one million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. alone. What’s more, it can happen to anyone, at any time, even if you’re free from risk factors (fair complexion, family history, severe sunburn early in life or age) which is why you should always, always talk to your doctor about any growth on your skin that change shape, bleeds or doesn’t heal.
If you have a close family member who has (or had) skin cancer, your best weapon is your awareness of the increased risk you may carry. Be extra-careful about the sun, limiting your exposure during peak (10:00 am – 2:00 pm) hours and using sunscreen or protective clothing year round.
Look over your own skin on a regular basis (using a mirror as necessary) for any mole, sore or skin growth that appears or changes. Watch for…
Asymmetry – one half of the area is different than the other.
Border – the outlines of the area are irregular
Color – can vary from one area to another in shades of tan, brown or black, sometimes even white, red or blue
Diameter – almost always bigger than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser)
Remember, a family history is only a risk factor according to these latest findings – the genes you carry don’t guarantee you anything, good or bad. Your best bet if you’re worried about the early signs of skin cancer is to make changes to limit the risks you can control, be aware and stay informed.