New research into a cream that contains a derivative of vitamin A may starve off the most common type of skin cancer in humans, basal cell carcinoma.
In laboratory experiments, Dr Ervin Epstein Jr. of the University of California, San Francisco and his colleagues discovered that the mice who were predisposed to skin cancer developed fewer and smaller tumours after ultraviolet radiation exposure when they had received the vitamin A cream, compared to the mice who received an inactive cream.
The form of vitamin A used in this investigation is known as tazarotene which is known to treat acne and psoriasis. Other vitamin A derivatives include the acne drugs Accutane and Retin A.
The mice were engineered to develop a condition similar to an inherited disease in humans called basal cell nevus syndrome (BCNS), where people become abnormally susceptible to basal cell carcinomas. Dr Epstein said that this type of vitamin A cream may one day help people with BCNS prevent the cancers they are prone to, and may also benefit those without the disorder who also develop skin cancers.
In the study, researchers rubbed tazarotene on the skin of cancer-prone mice five times a week for a period of 330 days. The mice were also exposed to UV radiation three times a week starting two months into the study.
The investigators found that mice who received the vitamin A cream developed 85% less and smaller tumors than those who weren’t given the cream.
Dr Epstein did caution though that further investigation of the cream is needed before it can be used in humans.
In previous studies, it has been suggested that derivatives of vitamin A may help with other cancers such as breast cancer. It has been shown that pills containing derivatives of vitamin A help shrink cancer tumours in patients, however the treatment has also shown to cause serious side effects.
Dr Epstein said that no one is exactly sure why vitamin A may help prevent breast cancer, but he suspects it keeps cells from continuing to proliferate. He said the cells can get ‘stuck’ in a phase where they multiply and can’t stop.
(Source: Reuters Health & ASCO)