best screen for sun: roof

source: New York Times, Tuesday June 30, 2015, p.D5

personal health

“The Best Screen for the Sun? A Roof” by Jane E. Brody

With summer sun shining brightly across the United States (at least on most days), there is no better time to review the latest sobering findings on the damage that ultraviolet radiation can inflict on one’s skin and then take steps to prevent it.

A British research team reported in May in the journal Science that a quarter or more of cells in the skin of middle aged people have suffered sun-induced DNA damage. Although the cells were outwardly normal, the mutations that occurred could be the first stages of cancer.

The researchers, lead by Dr. Peter J. Campbell, a cancer geneticist at the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute in England, examined the eyelid skin in four middle-aged adults – three were Western European and one was of South Asian descent – and found that hundreds of ostensibly normal cells had mutations linked to cancer, a number “way higher than we’d expect,” Dr. Campbell said. Clusters of these mutant cells, called clones, appeared in every 0.1 square inch of skin, with thousands of DNA mutations in each cell.

Although it is not known if the same rate of mutations occurs in sun-exposed skin elsewhere on the body, or in people of different ethnic backgrounds, or even how many of the mutations would progress to cancer, it is not a finding to dismiss lightly.

Douglas E. Brash, a biophysicist at Yale University School of Medicine, who has studied ¬†ultraviolet damage to cells for more than 40 years, and wrote a commentary on the British study, described the new findings as “a canary in a coal mine” and a warning to take the effects of ultraviolet radiation, whether wee whether from sunlight or tanning beds, more seriously.