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Skin cancer risk is now predictable

HOBART, TASMANIA. Researchers at the University of Tasmania have developed a novel way of determining a person's risk of developing melanoma or skin cancer. Their experiment included 244 patients with cutaneous malignant melanoma, 220 with basal cell carcinoma, 195 with squamous cell carcinoma, and 483 healthy controls. All participants were of northern European descent. The researchers measured the participants' melanin density in skin of the upper inner arm using a handheld spectrophotometer. They found that men with a low melanin density had a 6.2-fold greater incidence of melanoma, a 6.3-fold greater incidence of basal cell carcinoma, and a 4.2-fold greater incidence of squamous cell carcinoma than did men with a high level. The corresponding figures for women were a 1.9, 1.4 and 0.7 fold increase.

The researchers point out that melanin absorbs ultraviolet light and is found in greater density in the skin of racial groups (dark-skinned people) that have the lowest incidence of skin cancers. They cannot explain why women show a poorer correlation between melanin density and skin cancer risk, but speculate that it could be due to a higher general degree of sun avoidance among women. They conclude that spectrophotometric measurement of melanin content could be used to identify people of high risk for developing melanoma or skin cancer.
Dwyer, Terence, et al. Cutaneous melanin density of Caucasians measured by spectrophotometry and risk of malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 155, April 1, 2002, pp. 614-21

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