Compounds found in fruits such as pomegranates and grapes may help protect against the changes that can lead to skin cancer, researchers told a conference on Wednesday.
TESTS ON mice show that extracts from the fruit can slow down or prevent the damage done to skin by chemicals or sunlight.
Staying out of the sun is by far the best way to prevent skin cancer, the most common form of cancer.
The American Cancer Society says more than a million cases of basal and squamous cell cancer are diagnosed every year in the United States. These cancers progress very slowly and are rarely fatal unless untreated for years.
But melanoma, on the rise in many nations where fair-skinned complexions dominate, can progress and kill quickly. Melanoma will be diagnosed in nearly 54,000 Americans this year and will kill 7,400.
Several researchers told a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Phoenix that they had found promising results in compounds taken from fruits, rubbed into the skin of mice.
“The incidence of skin cancer is rising faster than any other solid tumor in the United States,” Dr. David Alberts of the University of Arizona said in a statement.
“We are pleased to see numerous studies exploring the therapeutic value of topically applied natural ingredients that people can begin incorporating into everyday life and may enhance the activity of standard sunscreens.”
A team at the University of Wisconsin used pomegranate extract to prevent a chemical called TPA from damaging the skin of newborn mice. The red fruit contains several compounds called polyphenols and anthocyanidins that are powerful antioxidants, which counteract the damage done to cells by chemicals, radiation and sunlight.
It significantly lowered the swelling and overgrowth of skin cells usually caused by the chemical, they reported.
“In the TPA treated group, all mice developed tumors at 16 weeks, whereas only 30 percent of the mice treated with pomegranate extract exhibited tumors at that point,” the researchers said.
A second team at the same school used resveratrol from grapes on mice and then exposed them to ultraviolet radiation.
They measured levels of a protein called survivin, which is overproduced in cancer cells but missing in normal adult cells. The resveratrol-treated mice produced less survivin.
“Further study should continue to support the argument to incorporate this agent into skin care products and regular diets, through the moderate consumption of grapes and red wine,” said Dr. Nihal Ahmad, who led the study.
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