Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers and if you're middle aged, you might want to keep an extra close watch on any changes to a mole and take care in the sun. More than a quarter of older adults have skin that has already taken the first steps towards cancer, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Sanger Institute, near Cambridge, found more than 100 DNA mutations linked to cancer in every 1 sq cm (0.1 sq in) of skin in people aged 55- to 73. The study, published in the journal Science, found that the mildly mutated cells were growing more quickly than other skin cells.
Dr Peter Campbell, the head of cancer genetics at Sanger, told the BBC News website: "The most surprising thing is just the scale, that a quarter to a third of cells had these cancerous mutations is way higher than we'd expect, but these cells are functioning normally."
Although it would take multiple mutations to cause a tumour to form, the study findings are a serious concern for many older adults.
Dr Campbell added: "It certainly changes my sun worshipping, but I don't think we should be terrified. It drives home the message that these mutations accumulate throughout life, and the best prevention is a lifetime of attention to the damage from sun exposure."
Dr Bav Shergill from the British Association of Dermatologists suggested following good sun safety practices, such as wearing protective clothing, seeking shade and choosing a sunscreen with an SPF [sun protection factor] of at least 30.
Dr Alan Worsley, from Cancer Research UK, added: "Although we all need some sun, avoid sunburn and skin damage when the sun is strong by spending time in the shade, covering up with clothing and using plenty of sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and four or more stars."
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