Our impact on skin cancer
We're fighting over 200 cancers, and skin cancer is in our sights. Every single pound donated helps fund our groundbreaking research, bringing closer the day when all cancers will be cured.
Thanks to our supporters, we’ve carried out pioneering work to understand the biology of skin cancer, as well as finding new and better ways to treat the disease - life-saving research that continues today.
Most cases of skin cancer are caused by excessive sun exposure, and our SunSmart campaign plays a vital role in raising awareness of the risks, as well as the importance of spotting the signs of skin cancer early. And our lab research has paved the way for important new skin cancer drugs that will make a real difference for patients.
Our researchers are heroes. Find out how your donation could support their pioneering, life-saving work.
Here are just a few examples of the progress we’ve made in beating skin cancer:
We issued our first warning on the link between sun exposure and skin cancer back in 1935, and we have continued to promote awareness ever since. In 2003 we launched SunSmart, our national prevention campaign. SunSmart provides reliable information about skin cancer and sun protection to help people reduce their risk of the disease, and our 2009 campaign reached over 65 per cent of adults in the UK.
Using a sunbed before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 75 per cent1. But we estimate that more than a quarter of a million 11-17 year olds in England have risked their health on a sunbed2. Our campaigning work is helping to protect young people from the risk of skin cancer.
With vital help from our supporters we lobbied MPs to pass the Sunbed (Regulations) Act in 2010, restricting the use of sunbeds to over 18s in England and Wales. This success will help protect a generation of children from the damage sunbeds can cause. We are now calling on the Government in England to develop the supporting regulations that will make the legislation more effective. The Welsh Assembly Government has already begun this process.
We campaigned successfully for the introduction of laws restricting the use of sunbeds in Scotland, which are now in force. We are also supporting the introduction of similar legislation in Northern Ireland.
Although sun damage is the most common cause of skin cancer, it’s not the whole story. Our scientists have made breakthroughs in understanding the other contributing causes of skin cancer and helping to identify people most at risk.
Thanks to our research, we know that certain strains of a common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) can act together with UV light to cause skin cancer3. Our scientists also showed that HPV can help to trigger some types of skin cancer in people with a weakened immune system3,4. Researchers are now building on this knowledge to find new ways to tackle the disease.
All cancers start with genetic damage to a cell, and skin cancer is no exception. This damage has two different sources. Some people start life with DNA faults they have inherited from their parents, and damage to a person’s DNA can also accumulate during their lifetime – UV radiation is one cause of this.
Our scientists’ groundbreaking work on skin cancer in the 1990s showed that a cell must have damage in several key genes before the disease develops5. This discovery had wide-reaching implications for our understanding of many different types of cancer, showing how DNA faults accumulate over time to cause the disease.
And our researchers helped to show that inherited faults in a gene called CDKN2A give some families a much higher risk of developing melanoma6. About two per cent of all cases of the disease are caused by these faults. This research is helping to identify people and families who are at risk, so they can be offered tailored advice and monitoring for any early changes that could lead to cancer. Our researchers are also unravelling how these gene faults combine with sun exposure to affect a person's risk of cancer.
We made another major step forward in understanding the genetics of skin cancer in 2002, when work carried out at The Institute of Cancer Research revealed that faults in a gene called BRAF contribute to over half of all cases of melanoma7. Since then, our scientists have led efforts to develop drugs that target this gene8, . Watch this short video or read our blog post to find out more about our research into the BRAF gene.
Our work on the BRAF gene shows how fundamental research into the biology of cancer can lead directly to new treatments. Drugs targeting BRAF are showing exciting results in clinical trials, and the first BRAF-targeting drug for advanced melanoma, vemurafenib (Zelboraf), is now available for patients in the UK.
Early work by our researchers on a gene called Hedgehog paved the way for the development of a drug called vismodegib (Erivedge), which is now showing great promise in clinical trials for people with a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma.
Our researchers also played a key role in developing the drug cisplatin9,10, which is used in combination with other drugs to treat melanoma. Cisplatin is also used worldwide to treat several other types of cancer.
Surgery is a vital treatment for melanoma. Our research has helped doctors to establish better recommendations for removing melanoma, reducing the chance that the cancer will come back after surgery11.
We are also finding ways to improve treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer. Although the disease can nearly always be cured, surgery to remove the cancer can leave scars. We funded a trial testing a cream called imiquimod, which can be used to treat small skin cancers instead of surgery12. The cream can be applied by patients at home and avoids the risk of scarring.
Imiquimod works by harnessing the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells in the skin. It’s hoped the trial will prove that the cream is just as effective as surgery, making simple treatment a reality for some forms of skin cancer.
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team
- IARC Working Group on artificial ultraviolet (UV) light and skin cancer.The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other skin cancers: A systematic review. Int J Cancer. 2007 Mar 1;120(5):1116-22.
- Thomson et al. Sunbed use in children aged 11-17 in England: face to face quota sampling surveys in the National Prevalence Study and Six Cities Study. BMJ 2010;340:c877.
- Purdie et al. The promoter of a novel human papillomavirus (HPV77) associated with skin cancer displays UV responsiveness, which is mediated through a consensus p53 binding sequence. EMBO J, 1999, 18: 5359-69.
- Leigh et al. Role of human papillomaviruses in cutaneous and oral manifestations of immunosuppression. J. Acquir. Immune Defic. Syndrome, 1999, 21: S49–57.
- Kemp et al. Transgenic approaches to the analysis of ras and p53 function in multistage carcinogenesis. Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol. 1994;59:427-34.
- Newton-Bishop et al. Mutation testing in melanoma families: INK4A, CDK4 and INK4D. Br J Cancer, 1999, 80 (1-2): 295-300
- Davies et al. Mutations of the BRAF gene in human cancer. Nature, 2002, 417: 949–53.
- Niculescu-Duvaz et al. Pyridoimidazolones as novel potent inhibitors of v-Raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homologue B1 (BRAF). J Med Chem 2009, 52: 2255-64.
- Calvert et al. Early clinical studies with cis-diammine-1,1-cyclobutane dicarboxylate platinum II. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol 1982, 7, 140-147.
- Kelland et al. Mini-review: discovery and development of platinum complexes designed to circumvent cisplatin resistance. Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 1999, 77, 111-115.
- Thomas et al. Excision margins in high-risk malignant melanoma. N Engl J Med. 2004 Feb 19;350(8):757-66.
- Ozolins at al. The SINS trial: a randomised controlled trial of excisional surgery versus imiquimod 5% cream for nodular and superficial basal cell carcinoma. Trials. 2010 Apr 21;11:42.