New research has found that a medication which is commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, IBD and vasculitis, could increase the risk of skin cancer. Published in the Journal of Nature Communications, the research was a joint venture between the University of Dundee, Queen Mary University of London and the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Researchers found that there was a ‘strong case’ for an association between azathioprine and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC), a common form of skin cancer.

It was previously known that azathioprine could lead to increased photosensitivity to UVA light, as well as with DNA-damaging effects on the skin, but now it’s thought that use of azathioprine correlates with a certain mutational signature in cSCC skin cancer.

The authors of the study do not believe that the medication should be withdrawn as it has many benefits in the treatment of what can be life-threatening diseases, but those who are prescribed azathioprine should wear appropriate sun protection all year round. It’s important that sun protection, skin surveillance and early diagnosis/lesion removal are part of the routine management of patients on azathioprine,” the study concluded.

Those who experience frequent cases of a common type of skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma could have a significantly increased risk of other types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colon and blood cancers, according to a recently published study.

The preliminary study was carried out by the researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the US. It found that the increased susceptibility was probably due to mutations in the proteins that repair DNA damage.

These proteins in our skin are constantly repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and most of the time are very successfully, but if they can’t keep up then basal cell carcinomas can develop.

“We discovered that people who develop six or more basal cell carcinomas during a 10-year period are about three times more likely than the general population to develop other, unrelated cancers,” commented assistant professor of dermatology and author of the study Dr Kavita Sarin: “We’re hopeful that this finding could be a way to identify people at an increased risk for a life-threatening malignancy before those cancers develop.”

Basal cell carcinoma is a very common form of skin cancer – about one in three Caucasians will develop one at some point in their life and this is not an indicator of increased susceptibility to other cancers. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with several basal cell carcinomas over a short period, you may wish to consider increased cancer screening.