Everyone knows that applying sunscreen is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. But now, there’s another topical ointment that could further protect your skin and reduce your cancer risk. The cream consists of 5-fluorouracil (50FU) and a synthetic form of vitamin D. Studies have shown that using this topical ointment could prevent precancerous lesions from turning into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a very common type of skin cancer.
A study performed a few years ago by showed that the cream was effective in getting rid of actinic keratoses, which are precancerous lesions that occur on sun-damaged skin. The risk of these individual lesions developing into SCC is low, but most cases of SCC do come from them. Recently, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Washington School of Medicine followed up on this study to further examine the effect of the ointment on SCC development.
The study, “Skin cancer precursor immunotherapy for squamous cell carcinoma prevention,” appeared yesterday in the journal JCI Insight. It showed that individuals who used a short course of 5-FU plus calcipotriol on their face and scalp had an increase in robust T cell function and tissue-resident memory T (Trm) cell production, both of which worked against actinic keratoses. The combination treatment reduced the risk of SCC by nearly 75%.
Calcipotriol is a treatment typically used for psoriasis, which is an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin, causing red, scaly patches in different areas. The calcipotriol appears to also stimulate the immune system’s T cells, and combined with the 5-FU, which is the typical treatment for actinic keratoses, it helps the body to attack tumor cells.
According to Shawn Demehri, MD, PhD, the study’s lead author, these results are the first to prove that immunotherapy can be used against “premalignant tumors” to reduce the risk of cancer. “We hope our findings will establish that the use of premalignant lesions as personalized therapeutic targets can train the immune system to fight against the progression to cancer,” he said.
The data showed that the calcipotriol plus 5-FU combination had very few side effects when used as a short-term treatment. It also proved the treatment’s potential in reducing occurrences of SCC. The research team even goes so far as to say that these results could be applied more broadly to other “skin and internal malignancies.” Additional studies will be done to evaluate the treatment, especially since this one is only based on 3-year results.