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In most cases, non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, the invisible rays from the sun that can burn the skin. To reduce the risk of skin cancer, dermatologists encourage the public to be sun smart, including limiting sun exposure and using broad-spectrum sunscreens. Despite these efforts, the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer continues to rise. Now, several agents—including medicines, foods and vitamins—are being investigated for their chemopreventive properties, or ability to prevent skin cancer.
At the American Academy of Dermatology’s Summer Academy Meeting 2010 in Chicago, dermatologist Craig A. Elmets, MD, FAAD, professor and chair, department of dermatology and director of the Skin Diseases Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, discussed promising new research on the use of medicine and diet to prevent UV-induced skin cancer in the future.
“Based on the research conducted thus far, it appears that several different agents have the potential to be effective in providing enhanced sun protection and preventing non-melanoma skin cancers,” said Elmets. “While the way these agents work are different, we have seen encouraging results with both oral and topical agents, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), eflornithine and certain natural antioxidants.”
Medications investigated as future chemopreventive agents
NSAIDs are a class of drugs that block cyclooxygenase enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2), which produce prostaglandins that promote inflammation, pain and fever. When these enzyme messengers responsible for reducing prostaglandins throughout the body are blocked, ongoing inflammation, pain and fever are reduced. One such NSAID approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and used primarily to treat inflammation associated with arthritis is celecoxib. Elmets noted the chemopreventive agent's use in patients with a syndrome known as basal cell nevus syndrome. Caused by a genetic defect, basal cell nevus syndrome triggers patients to develop basal cell carcinomas at a very young age.