COLUMBUS, Ohio – Skin cancer experts at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute are investigating multiple new strategies to prevent and treat melanoma and other skin cancers, but they say the most effective strategy is to avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun and eliminate recreational tanning altogether.
“There is no such thing as a good tan,” says Dr. Tatiana Oberyszyn, a cancer researcher who is focusing on testing new methods to prevent skin cancer. “A tan means there is damage.”
Oberyszyn says too much sunlight can lead to melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – but it may lead to other types of skin cancer, too, like basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
Every year, The American Cancer Society, the American Hospital Association and dermatologists around the country make note of the first Monday in May, “Melanoma Monday,” by urging people to begin a lifelong habit of self-examination to protect themselves from skin cancer.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, accounting for only 5 percent of all skin cancer, but 75 percent of all deaths. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form, and is rarely deadly. Squamous cell carcinoma – Oberyszyn’s specialty – occurs in roughly 16 percent of all cases. While it can often be treated successfully, it, too, can occasionally spread and be fatal. Over the last century, there has been a steady increase in the number of non-melanoma skin cancers, with over 1 million cases reported last year in the United States.
Oberyszyn’s laboratory studies in animals have shown that a topical preparation of a COX-2 inhibitor can prevent early sun damage from escalating to skin cancer, and a trial is now underway to see if an oral form of the drug can be effective in humans.
COX-2 inhibitors include drugs like celecoxib (Celebrex), and are often prescribed for pain because they can inhibit genes that contribute to inflammation – a process common in both sunburn and the development of cancer.
“Most people are under the mistaken notion that if they go outside in the sun that a plain, white T-shirt will protect them. It won’t,” says Oberyszyn. “A plain white T-shirt is equal to an SPF (sun protection factor) of 2. A wet white T-shirt offers an SPF of 0!”
Oberyszyn says the best thing for people to do is avoid the sun as much as possible, or, if they have to be outside, wear plenty of sunscreen with a high SPF value. She says children are especially vulnerable to skin damage, so it is critical that they be adequately protected.
“Skin cancer is one type of malignancy that we know how to prevent, at least for the most part,” says Oberyszyn. “It’s only a matter of following through.”
She also endorses American Cancer Society guidelines for self-examination, referred to as the “ABCD” rules regarding any changes in moles or growths:
A is for ASYMMETRY: One-half of the mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for BORDER: The edges are irregular or ragged-looking.
C is for COLOR: The color is not the same all over, but may appear patchy, with differing shades of brown, black, red, white or blue.
D is for DIAMETER: The area is larger than about one-fourth inch – the size of a pencil eraser – or is growing larger.
The Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, part of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at The Ohio State University, is the only freestanding cancer hospital in the Midwest. It is a national and international leader in translational research and clinical care, and one of the charter members of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. U.S. News & World Report has consistently ranked The James as one of the nation’s best cancer hospitals.# # #
Medical Center Communications