A genetic ray of sunshine

By | Health & Wellness
Applying sun cream to protect the skin credit@Ngaire (ni-ree) Naran via flickr.com

Most of us may stay in the sun longer than we should, especially in the summer time. Others may use sun beds to top up their tan in winter months too. Sunburn is one of the main causes of melanoma and other types of skin cancer, across the world.  However, scientists have now made a huge step forward in understanding how certain people are afflicted with the condition. It has been found that an increased chance of developing skin cancer can be hereditary; meaning that the possibility of having the disease is increased if other family members have either had it, or still do.

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer around the world. It is caused due to the skin being exposed to too much sun, either through a long period of time or through a shorter time of higher exposure. The heat and light radiated from the sun are emitted in electromagnetic waves. Visible light waves leave the skin unaffected, although if the sun is too bright it may affect the eye. Conversely, the heat that is emitted from the sun is radiated in the form of UV or ultraviolet rays, which can affect the skin and increase the chances of developing melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Sun beds too produce artificial UV emissions that can also increase the chances.  Although sun creams have been developed to shield the effects of these rays, they may sometimes be ineffective. Help, however, may be at hand, as Doctors are now able to predict those people who are more likely to develop the condition.

Sunshine Credit @ gr33n3gg via Flickr.com

Sunshine Credit @ gr33n3gg via Flickr.com

Scientists have discovered that, as well as sun exposure and skin type, genetic mutations can also lead to the condition. The tests that will become available, are much like those for the mutations that could cause hereditary breast cancer. Patients who are related to those who have had skin cancer in the past or are still afflicted with the condition, will be able to take a test to determine whether they have a certain genetic mutation. This mutation makes the gene POT1 less effective at protecting chromosomes from the UV rays that are emitted from the sun, although in some cases they cease to function all together.

This discovery will mean that people who are most likely to develop the condition can be advised to take extra precautions when outside, thus reducing the chances of getting melanoma even with this genetic mutation. Scientists believe that these tests will allow us to know more about how the cancer is developed in clearer detail, and hopefully reduce the amount of people who are living with the condition.

Media coverage, such as Hugh Jackman’s public message about how he developed skin cancer, has sent a clear message to many. And alongside new discoveries such as this, hopefully more and more people will become aware of melanoma and skin cancer and how to reduce the chance of developing the condition. The more that we know about these conditions, the better equipped we can be to treat them, and this discovery has opened many other doors into understanding how we develop them and how to recover from them. With the help of these new developments, in the future we may be able to determine whether genetic mutations are the underlying causes for other cancers and conditions.

How will this new development change how other cancers may be understood with respect to a genetic link?

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