The anti-inflammatory effect of fish and fish oil supplements have long been used to bring down high blood pressure and keep heart disease at bay. The secret ingredient is their omega-3 fatty acids. A new study shows that omega-3 may be good for your skin, too.
Most skin cancer is the result of exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which suppresses the skin’s immune system making people less able to fight off skin diseases such as cancer. But researchers in England have shown that a daily dose of omega-3 can partially counteract this effect, reducing an individual’s likelihood of developing skin cancer. The fatty acids have been shown to prevent cancer in mice, but this was the first time it was demonstrated in humans.
In today’s digital world, smartphones can eliminate trips to the grocery store, the library or even the bank. But can downloading a skin cancer application really replace a doctor’s appointment? While
avoiding the waiting room may have its appeals, a new analysis of apps to identify cancerous skin conditions shows that their accuracy is lacking and the consequences grave.
How can an app identify skin cancer, you might ask? The technology relies on digital image analysis. Users upload photos of their moles, blotches or blisters in question and the images are examined either by software or a set of eyes.
Amyloid beta deposits in brain of Alzheimer’s patient.
What’s the News: A drug used to cure skin cancer is also a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s, according to a new study in Science. The drug not only reduced levels of amyloid beta—a protein whose elevated levels are a hallmark of the disease—but also reversed cognitive decline. In mice, dramatic effects were evident after just 72 hours.
What’s the News: Three new drugs have been shown to improve survival and slow disease progress in patients with metastatic melanoma. This advanced form of the disease is the deadliest type of skin cancer, with patients surviving for an average of only 6 to 9 months. Phase III clinical trials of the treatments—a new chemotherapy drug, an immune-system treatment combined with traditional chemotherapy, and a vaccine combined with another immune treatment—were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Metastatic melanoma cells
What’s the News: Souped-up cells from a patient’s own immune system could one day be used to treat advanced melanoma, according to a preliminary study published in Science Translational Medicine investigating the safety of the technique. The researchers manipulated a patient’s immune system cells to better recognize cancer cells in the lab and then re-introduced those cells into the body—an approach called “adoptive T-cell therapy.”
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focuses on basal cell carcinoma, a variety of skin cancer associated with hair follicle cells. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, and while it rarely metastasizes or kills it’s still considered malignant.
Biochemists Sunny Wong and Jeremy Reiter, from the University of California, San Francisco, wanted to see how tumors develop from cancerous mutations. To do that, they genetically modified mice so that their hair follicle stem cells expressed the human basal cell carcinoma gene. After giving some of the mice a small cut, and leaving others alone, they discovered that tumors only formed on the hurt mice.
When skin is cut, hair-follicle stem cells migrate to the injury. Wong says pre-cancerous cells can lie dormant in the body until a trigger, such as radiation or a build up of mutations, pushes them into forming a tumour. “In this case, wounding got cancerous cells out of their resting phase,” he says. [New Scientist]
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.
But is even this sage advice subject to the “it’ll cause cancer, no wait, it’ll cure cancer” back-and-forth that plagues medical studies? Reading some headlines today, you might think so. Don’t toss out your tube of Banana Boat just yet, though.
The non-profit Environmental Working Group released another of its reports on the sunscreen industry, coming down hard on the chemicals it uses and the claims it makes in its advertising. Some stories about the report drew headlines like “Sunscreen May Hurt, Not Help;” “Your Sunscreen May Give You Cancer: Study;” and “Study: Many Sunscreens May Be Accelerating Cancer.”
EWG’s report claims that a Vitamin A compound called retinyl palmitate, used in some 40 percent of sunscreens, breaks down and causes skin damage under exposure to sunlight. The report cites research done under the Food and Drug Administration. But, according to dermatologist Henry W. Lim of Henry Ford Hospital:
These claims, says Lim, are based on a study in mice, which are far more susceptible to skin cancer than humans. “It’s dangerous to apply a finding in mice to humans, and I’ve spoken with a number of my colleagues about this and we all agree that it’s very premature to even cast doubt about the safety of this chemical.” The EWG also flagged products with oxybenzone, which it calls a “hormone-disrupting” compound. This, too, is based on mice data, says Lim; the animals were fed significantly greater amounts of the chemical than what’s commonly applied in sunscreen. Other research found no significant changes in blood hormone levels in human volunteers who were told to apply sunscreens containing oxybenzone every day for two weeks [U.S. News & World Report].
Researchers have found that several moisturizers are linked to an increased skin cancer risk in hairless mice, but caution that there’s no reason for people to panic. Mouse skin is very different from human skin, they say, and the mice also developed a very curable type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, not the more lethal melanoma.
Lead researcher Allan Conney says the team discovered the risk while testing a theory that caffeine could prevent skin cancer. “We sort of got into this by accident,” Conney said in a telephone interview. “We wanted a safe cream that we could put the caffeine into” [Reuters].
The news just keeps getting better about vitamin D. Earlier this year, studies linked proper levels of the “sunshine vitamin” to a decreased risk of diabetes, heart attacks, and cancer; that’s in addition to the previously understood role that vitamin D plays in keeping bones strong. Building on all these findings, a new study suggests that maintaining proper levels of the nutrient can even stave off death from heart attacks and other causes.
Researchers point out that they haven’t yet demonstrated a causal relationship, just a connection. The study’s lead author, Dr. Harald Dobnig of the Medical University of Graz in Austria, said the results don’t prove that low levels of vitamin D are harmful “but the evidence is just becoming overwhelming at this point” [AP]. Researchers aren’t sure what the connection is but they speculate that the nutrient may play a role in regulating the immune system, and may also have an anti-inflammatory function that keeps the heart healthy.
For decades, doctors have warned the public about the dire risks of too much sunbathing and ultraviolet radiation, and the public has responded by slathering on sunblock. Now, medical advice is swinging back in the other direction.
A host of new studies have indicated that vitamin D, which is produced by the body when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, helps reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
The latest study followed over 18,000 men and found that men with vitamin D deficiency were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack than those with normal levels of the nutrient. They were also more likely to die as a result of heart disease. The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine [subscription required].