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High temperatures may increase skin cancer threat

Tuesday, 05 July 2016

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Exposure to ultra-violet (UV) light has long been established as the main cause of skin cancer.

But now research from ECU has revealed that temperature may also play a major role, with a difference of just two degrees potentially significantly increasing the risk of developing the skin cancer.

Researchers from ECU’s Melanoma Research Group exposed two samples of human skin cells to UV light, keeping one sample at 37°C and the other at 39°C.

When they analysed the skin cells they found that those exposed to the 39°C temperature had significantly more DNA damage, a major risk factor for developing skin cancer.

Lead researcher Dr Leslie Calapre said the higher temperature appeared to inhibit the tumour-supressing protein p53 in skin cells.

“The p53 protein is responsible for mediating repair and/or the death of cells that harbour DNA damage. Suppression of this protein after exposure to UV and heat allows for the survival of damaged cells and thus potentially increases the risk that a cancerous tumour will develop,” she said.

Workplace risk

Dr Calapre said the findings were of particular significance to workers in industries that are required to work outside and exposed to high levels of heat.

“This research shows that in industries like mining, construction and agriculture operating in areas that regularly see high temperatures, protecting workers from skin cancer requires not just minimising their UV exposure, but also doing things to reduce the levels of ambient heat for workers,” she said.

“Things like allowing workers to take regular breaks in air-conditioned areas on hot days, doing work in the shade wherever possible and making sure that protective clothing allows good air flow could all be ways of potentially minimising risk.”

The study, Heat-mediated reduction of apoptosis in UVB-damaged keratinocytes in vitro and in human skin ex vivo, was recently published in the journal Bio Med Central Dermatology.

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