06/05/2014 10:42 BST | Updated 06/05/2014 11:59 BST

Eczema Could Reduce The Risk Of Skin Cancer, Research Shows

We put up with dry, itchy skin and are constantly applying creams to try (in vain) to fight the flake - but there might be some much needed good news for us eczema sufferers.

New research suggests eczema sufferers may have less chance of developing skin cancer.

A study conducted by experts at King's College London found the immune response triggered by eczema could stop tumours forming by shedding potentially cancerous cells.

eczema

Genetically engineered mice lacking three skin proteins - known as "knock-out" mice - were used to replicate some of the skin defects found in eczema sufferers.

Cancer-causing chemicals were tested on normal mice and the knock-out mice. Researchers found the number of benign tumours per mouse was six times lower in knock-out mice.

The new study, published in eLife, suggests both types of mice were equally susceptible to getting cancer-causing mutations, but an exaggerated inflammatory reaction in knock-out mice led to enhanced shedding of potentially cancerous cells from the skin.

Professor Fiona Watt, director of the centre for stem cells and regenerative medicine at King's College London, said: "We are excited by our findings as they establish a clear link between cancer susceptibility and an allergic skin condition in our experimental model.

"They also support the view that modifying the body's immune system is an important strategy in treating cancer.

"I hope our study provides some small consolation to eczema sufferers - that this uncomfortable skin condition may actually be beneficial in some circumstances."

According to the World Health Organisation, skin cancer accounts for one in every three cancers diagnosed worldwide.

Malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is now five times more common in the UK than it was in the 1970s.

Statistics from Cancer Research UK state 13,348 people in the UK were diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer in 2011.

Dr Mike Turner, head of infection and immunobiology at the Wellcome Trust, said: "Skin cancer is on the rise in many countries and any insight into the body's ability to prevent tumour formation is valuable in the fight against this form of cancer.

"These findings that eczema can protect individuals from skin cancer support theories linking allergies to cancer prevention and open up new avenues for exploration whilst providing some small comfort for those suffering from eczema."

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.