Genes a contributing factor to skin cancer, research finds

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Researchers from UT and the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center have found a gene that indicates non-threatening nonmelanoma skin cancer susceptibility.

The new find can lead to more information and possible treatment of the various forms of nonmelanoma cancers, said John DiGiovanni, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, pharmacy and nutritional sciences.

“Our discovery will primarily impact the prevention of nonmelanoma skin cancer by helping to identify high-risk individuals and by identifying novel molecular targets for future prevention strategies,” DiGiovanni said. “We want to understand how this gene works, as it could lead to model molecular data for possible prevention.”

Nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are the most common forms of skin cancer — and while they aren’t life-threatening, they can cause disfigurements and have lasting side effects on the skin, DiGiovanni said.

He served as director of the MD Anderson Center from 1997 to 2009. He hopes this research will help find treatments and links to other skin and pediatric cancers, like melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma.

“We started working on identifying cancer susceptibility genes in mice almost 30 years ago with the intent of finding genes that would also be involved in human cancer susceptibility,” DiGiovanni said. “Our original interest came from our early studies in mice that showed wide variation to both chemically-induced and UVB-induced skin cancer susceptibility among different inbred strains of mice.”

MD Anderson professor Joe Angel, who worked with DiGiovanni, primarily conducted genetic studies which led to the identification of the gene as a candidate for non-melanoma cancers.

Angel said the impacts of this research will be far-reaching in terms of finding genes that lead to susceptibility of melanoma, lymphoma, leukemia, liver and lung cancers.

“We’re still working on finding more of these genes,” Angel said. “These findings could lead to novel approaches in the prevention of skin and other kinds of cancers out there.”